Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mexican Dinner

Mexican food doesn't provide much variety for vegetarians other than salads, tortillas, rice and beans. My family likes Mexican food but we don't eat it as often as we would like due to the limited choices. Quesadilla and black bean salsa is one of our staples for Mexican food. They are both easy to make and taste great too.

Quesadillas can be filled with any vegetable or beans of your choice and topped with cheese. The cheese acts as the glue which holds the quesadilla together. Hence you can add as much cheese or as little cheese as you like as long as the tortilla sticks. Typically the most common vegetarian options are plain cheese, refried beans, mushrooms, or caramelized onions. Today I tried a cauliflower quesadilla which turned out great. The crispy shell filled with the pillowy grated cauliflower provides a great textural contrast. With the addition of aromatics like garlic chips and sauteed onions, the result was deliciousness. Another great filling is zucchini blossoms, roasted garlic paste and fresh red chili (this was in a weekend edition of the WSJ - suggested by Rick Bayless). I tried this recipe as well and it was delicious, but I don't have pictures. Will add it the next time I find zucchini blossoms - probably next year since the season is almost over.

Black bean salsa is a nice accompaniment to the quesadilla. The basic ingredients are black beans, corn, onions, and tomatoes. I have added cucumbers, poblano peppers and avocado. Bell peppers, radish, jicama, and ripe mango can also be added. You can use as many or as few ingredients as you like depending on the number of people you would like to serve.

Black bean and roasted corn salsa

Black bean and roasted corn salsa

1/2 cup dried organic black beans (or a can of organic cooked black beans)
1 clove of garlic, peeled and cut into two
1 fresh corn roasted on the cob, kernels removed after roasting
1 poblano pepper
1 medium sized vine ripened tomato, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped vidalia onion (I like them because they are not pungent - you could use any onion that you like)
1/2 cup chopped cucumber ( I like the seedless persian cucumbers)
1/2 large avocado, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro, leaves and soft stems
1 teaspoon, finely minced jalapeno pepper or serrano pepper (optional)
4 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons kosher salt

  1. Soak the beans for 2 to 3 hours. A lot of recipes recommend overnight, but I found that the ones I had were beginning to split in 2 hours. I think it depends on how fresh the beans are. Drain the water - it will be dark purple. Add fresh water to cover the beans by 3 inches. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and the two pieces of garlic and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, lower the heat and simmer till the beans are done. Once again it could take anywhere between 20 to 45 minutes depending on the quality of beans that you are using. Skim occasionally. When the beans are soft but not mushy, remove the garlic pieces, drain and transfer to a large serving bowl.
  2. In the meantime, roast the poblano pepper over the stove. In case you have an electric stove, preheat the oven to 400 F and roast the poblano pepper on a baking sheet for 15 to 20 minutes till the skin is completely charred. Place the roasted pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. This will help steam to build and make it easy to remove the charred outer skin. Once cooled, slide off the skin and remove the seeds and pith. Chop the cleaned pepper into 1/4 inch pieces and set aside to be added with all the other ingredients.
  3. Add all the other ingredients to the cooled black beans and mix gently. (The avocado should be cut at the last minute to prevent browning.) Set aside for an hour for all the flavors to meld. Serve with the quesadillas.
Serves 2 - 3

Cauliflower Quesadillas

Cauliflower quesadillas

4 burrito size tortillas ( I used Mission flour tortillas)
1 1/2 cup grated cauliflower (about 4 large florets - use only the florets)**
1 cup finely chopped red onion
2 large cloves of garlic thinly sliced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup cilantro, finely minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno or fresh red chili
1/2 cup or more queso fresco grated or chopped into bits or shredded mozzarella***
Cooking spray

  1. Heat a small skillet with canola oil over medium heat. Add the garlic slices to the warm oil and cook for a minute or two till they are light brown (like chips). Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the chopped onion to the same pan and saute till light brown. 
  2. For assembling the quesadillas, place a tortilla on a cutting board, and spread 1/4 cup of the cheese evenly over the tortilla ensuring that there is enough at the edges to help seal the quesadilla. Then spread 3/4 cup of the grated cauliflower mixed with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Then sprinkle half the garlic chips and half the sauteed onion. Finally sprinkle 1/4 cup of the minced cilantro. Cover with the second tortilla.
  3. Preheat a griddle over medium heat and spray lightly with cooking spray. When the griddle is warm place the quesadilla on the pan and cook for a couple of minutes until the bottom begins to brown. (If you have a panini press, place it on the quesadilla to get it to stick - else press with a spatula.) Once the bottom is brown, spray the top tortilla with some cooking spray and flip. Cook till the cheese is melted and the second side is brown as well. Do the same with the second set of tortillas.
  4. Let the quesadillas cool for a couple of minutes. Cut into wedges with a pizza cutter or a sharp knife and serve with the salsa.
Yield: Makes two large quesadillas

**- Best done on a Microplane Home series coarse grater to get that fluffy texture -available at Amazon
*** Queso fresco is a mild mexican cheese. In Mexico it is a fresh cheese with a crumbly and slightly acidic taste. But in the US, they are sold pasteurized.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Okra the Japanese way

The first thing that comes to mind when you think of okra is "slimy". But this grilled version is anything but slimy. You need even sized baby okra about 2 to 3 inches max in length. These are so tender that you don't even need to trim them. I can only find them at this time of the year in farmers markets in the US. In India, there is another kind which are dark green and narrow and those would be great too.

I would have never thought of grilling okra till we went to a Japanese restaurant in Singapore and since my husband is vegetarian, a friend of ours who speaks Japanese ordered everything vegetarian for us. Amongst the many things that we liked were these grilled baby okra, grilled shisito peppers and grilled scallions, all on skewers and very lightly spiced.

Plan on atleast 10 per person since they are terribly addictive.

Grilled Okra Japanese style

1/2 lb baby okra, about 2 inches long (there were 21 pieces)
2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon Japanese chili powder (Shichimi togarashi***)

  1. Preheat a grill pan over medium high heat.
  2. Wash and dry the okra. Toss them in a bowl with sesame oil, salt, and chili powder and let them marinate for 15 minutes. 
  3. Place the marinated okra on the grill and cook the okra for about 5 minutes on each side till they have nice grill marks. Serve immediately.
 Serves 2

 ***A Japanese spice blend that typically includes red chile flakes, dried orange peel, white sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, nori (seaweed) flakes, poppy seeds and ginger. Actual ingredients may vary depending on the brand. If you don't have access to this blend, you could make your own from this link

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Oyster mushrooms go Asian

My celebration of the farmers market bounty continues with oyster mushrooms. If you have not eaten oyster mushrooms they are definitely worth a try. They have a soft, silky and  chewy texture and some people say they taste like seafood (probably the ones that grow in the wild). They grow in clumps. When shopping for oyster mushrooms, look for caps that are white, cream or taupe color with no dark spots that indicate spoilage or age. The stems should be firm and white. Oyster mushrooms don't require much cleaning. Lightly brush them with a kitchen towel and chop off the hard stem. If they are large, then you can tear them with your hands.

Oyster Mushrooms 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cilantro and Onion fritters

Fritters are a very popular Indian snack. They can be made with any vegetable. Chickpea flour is typically used as a binding agent to hold all the vegetables together. Cilantro fritters are not very common, but I had bought a huge bunch of cilantro for a dollar fifty and couldn't use such a large amount for garnishing. Hence I decided to make them into fritters. My dad used to make them when he had excess cilantro growing on his terrace garden, but then I wasn't so fond of them. But not having eaten them since I left home i.e. a zillion years I was missing them.

I have added onions to provide a crunch and break the monotony of just cilantro fritters and instead of chopped green chili, I have added cayenne. I find green chili's very misleading in their heat index. Sometimes they are super hot and sometimes mild - hence I decided to skip the uncertainty. I have also added some rice flour to the chickpea flour for extra crispiness.

Cilantro and onion fritters

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sweet potato leaves

Sweet Potato leaves - not something that you come by every day, but worth trying if you get a hold of it. During my last trip to the farmers market I chanced upon them at a stall that sells a lot of produce used in Japanese cuisine and it is owned by Japanese women. These are the leaves of Okinawan sweet potatoes which are grown in Japan. The texture is wonderful - soft but not slimy and a little like morning glory leaves. I hadn't eaten them in 6 years since we moved to New York.  Malaysian Chinese eat it stir fried with sambal belacan and dried shrimps - a hot and spicy stir fry. The Rasa Malaysia blog has a very nice recipe if you are not vegetarian. Sweet potato leaves are also used in African cuisine. Another blogger has a stew with sweet potato leaves - click here for recipe.

Sweet Potato leaves

Celebrating the farmers market

Earlier this week, my 9 year old and me made a trip to the Union square green market in NYC and were overwhelmed by the gorgeous bounty on sale. It seemed like everything was at its peak. What was supposed to be a quick browse turned out to be a major event. Instead of picking up a few choice produce and taking a subway back home, we had bought enough to warrant a cab ride. Starting from the stunning red Jersey tomatoes, to the juicy Jersey peaches, to the shiny eggplants, numerous variety of potatoes and many many more...... there was a wide variety of produce to pick from.

This post is highlighting only a fraction of what we lugged home - future posts to follow. So, here we have ball zucchini and patty pan squash - they are so beautiful that they look too good to eat, some succulent tomatoes, crisp pale pink radish and an array of fingerling potatoes. Fingerling potatoes come in a variety of colors - yellow, pale pink, red, and purple. I bought a combination of rose-red skin French fingerling potatoes, yellow La Ratte fingerlings and a pale pink variety whose name I cannot remember. The French fingerling has a moist yellow flesh with streaks of pink and looks really pretty when cooked. These fingerling potatoes are great for roasting as they are waxy and have a nutty flavor.

Farmers market produce

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bruschetta bar

Bruschetta, pronounced in Italy as “brusketta”, is an appetizer from central Italy. It consists of roasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, with no topping. But today there are many variations of Bruschetta with different kinds of toppings. Bruschetta is usually served as a snack or appetizer, but we like to make a meal of it. Today's bruschetta bar has the following choices:
  • Tangy goat cheese topped with french green lentils and sweet roasted red peppers with a generous drizzle of great extra virgin olive oil
  • Melt in your mouth leeks with sauteed button mushrooms flavored with fresh thyme and topped with Parmesan shavings
  • And finally, the most common of them all, but still very good - vine ripened tomatoes with basil and olive oil

Bruschetta Bar

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cappellini with slow roasted grape tomatoes

Usually you think of slow roasting tomatoes when they have been sitting on the kitchen counter for sometime and are starting to look slow roasted without being in the oven. But this is such a great recipe that you don't need to wait for that stage. You can make this with those luscious grape tomatoes that you just bought.

Slow roasting concentrates the flavor of the tomato and makes for a nice thick pasta sauce which coats the pasta beautifully and imparts a gorgeous pink hue. I add some additional flavor by sprinkling some fresh thyme while roasting the tomatoes.

I have made this sauce with raw garlic as well as roasted garlic, but I prefer the punch of the raw garlic contrasting with the sweetness of the roasted tomatoes. If you are not a garlic fan, then using either sauteed garlic or roasted garlic will be the way to go.

In this recipe, I have used cappellini (angel hair pasta), but any long cut pasta like spaghetti, fettucini or linguini works well. If you use whole wheat spaghetti, you will not get that beautiful color, but the taste will be great - a nice nutty flavor of the whole wheat and the tart sweetness of the tomatoes. What I love most about this recipe is that the oven does most of the work for you and at the end of it, you get an awesome pasta dish.

Cappellini with grape tomatoes and basil

6 oz cappellini pasta
1lb grape tomatoes
4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 - 1/2  teaspoon kosher salt
1 small garlic clove
1 cup basil leaves, coarsely chopped
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only
2 small calabrian dried chilies** (these are tiny red chilies from Italy or 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes)
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 200 F. Cut the tomatoes into half lengthwise and place them on a foil lined baking sheet cut side up. Sprinkle with kosher salt and drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil. Scatter the thyme leaves over the tomatoes and roast in the 200 F oven for 2 hours. After two hours the tomatoes will be shriveled but juicy. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

2. When cool, place all the tomatoes, the oil and the juice into a food processor with the garlic and process till it is a paste. Then add the chili peppers and run the processor till it is well incorporated. Finally drizzle in 2 tablespoons olive oil and buzz again to make a thick sauce. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

3. Heat a large pot of salted boiling water and cook the pasta for 3 minutes. Before draining the pasta, keep aside about a cup of the pasta cooking water for thinning the sauce. Add the drained pasta to the tomato sauce in the mixing bowl. Add 1/2 of the chopped basil and a few grinds of black pepper and toss well. If the pasta is too dry, add a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta water. The sauce should coat all the pasta well. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust accordingly. Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining basil leaves. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Serves 3.

**In NYC they are available in Buono Italia in Chelsea market

Endive, corn and black eyed peas salad

The other day I bought Belgian endive with no plans on what to do with it. I had eaten it as an appetizer in a Moroccan restaurant; more like a vehicle for the appetizer. It is very good for scooping dips such as humus, baba ghanoush etc or creamy salads like a chicken salad or shrimp salad. The leaves when separated and filled with the dip or the salad makes an elegant presentation.

If you have not eaten a Belgian endive, it is the least bitter green of the chicory family.  While buying endive, choose those that are lighter in color - they are less bitter and with tightly packed leaves. I wanted to make a salad with them - so I paired it up with roasted corn - sweetness of the corn contrasts well with the slight bitterness of the endive. I also added some tomatoes for tartness and black eyed peas for crunch and protein. The salad is very lightly dressed with a smooth and slightly tangy roasted garlic vinaigrette.

Endive, corn and black eyed peas salad
1/4 cup dried black eyed peas
1 corn on the cob, roasted and kernels removed (or 1/2 cup frozen roasted corn)
1 vine ripened tomato, seeds removed and cubed
1 large Belgian endive
Roasted garlic vinagrette (recipe follows)

Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette
3 large cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons unfiltered extra virgin olive oil ( I love the flavor of unfiltered olive oil)
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

1. Soak the dried black eyed peas for 2 hours in hot water. Drain, cover will cold water and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes till they are tender but not mushy. Drain and cool.

2. Preheat over to 400°F for roasting the garlic. This should be done ahead. 

3. Snip the top of the garlic cloves, leaving the skin intact. Place the garlic cloves in a foil pouch with 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Roast the garlic until soft, about 20 minutes. 

4. Let the garlic cool and remove from the pouch. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of the skin - it will be like a paste. Transfer to a small bowl and whisk together with vinegar, honey, 1/4 teaspoon salt and dijon mustard. Then slowly whisk in the 2 tablespoons olive oil to form an emulsion. Check for seasoning and adjust to taste. Set aside.

5. Remove the outer leaves of the endive and chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Place in the serving bowl. De-seed the tomato and chop into 1/2 inch pieces as well. Add to the chopped endive. Now add the cooled black eyed peas.  

6. Remove the husk from the corn and roast over the stove top till it is charred but not burnt. This should take about 5 to 7 minutes at most. When it is cool enough to handle, remove the kernels and mix into the salad bowl along with the other ingredients. (If you do not have a gas stove, you can remove the kernels and steam it or use frozen roasted corn from Trader Joes.)

7. Drizzle the roasted garlic vinaigrette over the salad and toss lightly.

Serves 3.