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.

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