Thursday, December 27, 2012

Black bean fajitas

We just got back from our holiday in Mexico and got addicted to the wonderful cuisine with its various salsas. We were adding it to almost anything we ate there, starting from eggs to just smearing soft bread rolls with it.

We ate our fair share of tacos, fajitas, enchiladas and more. The typical vegetarian fajita filling was sauteed vegetables, and there was a trio of sauces - guacamole, chopped tomato and onion salsa and a lovely vibrant green tomatillo and serrano chili salsa. But my favorite remains the black bean filling topped with sauteed onions and peppers cooked al dente. The crunch in the vegetables complements the soft tortillas. These tortillas are finally garnished with shredded iceberg lettuce for freshness and some more crunch. I would have liked to make a salsa, but didn't want to do the work. If you like, there are many salsa recipes on the web which would work well.

Black bean fajitas

One pack small soft flour tortillas (I like the Mission brand tortillas)
One large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
One large white onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano (optional)
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
Black bean filling (recipe below)

  1. Heat a large saute pan with 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook for a  few minutes over medium high heat till the onions are just beginning to get translucent.
  2. Add the bell peppers, and the oregano if using and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes till the onions and bell peppers are cooked but still retain their crunch. Add the freshly ground black pepper and cook for 1 more minute. Transfer immediately to a serving bowl to stop the cooking.
  3. Warm the tortillas for 20 seconds in the microwave or wrap in aluminum foil and warm in a 350 F oven for 10 minutes.
  4. Take a tortilla, spread with a tablespoon and a half of the black bean filling, a tablespoon of the onion and pepper mixture and some shredded lettuce and enjoy!
Serves 4


Black bean filling

1 14 oz can of organic black beans
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 teaspoons canola oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoon taco seasoning (I used Trader Joes) or you can make your own. Click here for recipe.
7 oz San Marzano crushed or pureed tomatoes (½ a small can)

1. Heat a 3 qt saucepan over medium low heat with canola oil. When the oil starts to warm up, add the chopped onions, garlic and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook over low heat covered for 10 to 12 minutes stirring occasionally till the mixture is soft and mushy.
2. Drain the can of beans and add it to the onion and garlic mixture. Add 1 ½ teaspoons of taco seasoning, half a can of the crushed tomatoes and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and cook covered over medium low heat for another 10 minutes. By this time, the beans would have been well seasoned and the tomato will be absorbed by the beans. Stir halfway through to ensure that the beans don’t stick to the pan. (I used a non-stick pan but it might still stick since the mixture is not very wet).
3. Allow to cool and serve.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mushroom Ragu over polenta

This is a great main course for vegetarians for Christmas dinner. The ragu can be made in advance and the quick cooking polenta always come to the rescue. My meat eating friends love this dish as well - so plan to make extra.
A mixture of mushrooms works best for this dish. The variety of flavors adds to the complexity of the dish and also contributes to providing some textural contrast. One of my meat eating friends told me that the mushrooms coated with this gorgeous silky brown sauce reminded them of steak bits in gravy.  Of course vegetarians who love mushrooms will find this recipe delicious.

I found this recipe in David Tanis's cookbook Heart of the Artichoke and other kitchen journeys. This is a slight riff of the original recipe.

Mushroom Ragu over Polenta


¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, finely diced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (I used a mix of cremini, Portobello, button and shiitake)
3 garlic cloves, put through a press
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
2 teaspoons finely chopped sage leaves
½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups Porcini Mushroom Broth (recipe follows), hot, or as needed *****
2 tablespoon chopped parsley

1. To prepare the ragu, in a very large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring well, until it begins to brown. Lower the heat to medium, season the onion with salt and pepper, and continue stirring until nicely caramelized, about 5 minutes. Remove the onion to a small bowl. Return the pan to the heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and turn the heat to high. Add the mushrooms, stirring well to coat with oil. Keep the heat high and sauté the mushrooms until they brown lightly. If juices accumulate in the pan, pour them off and reserve.
2. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper, add the garlic, thyme, sage, and pepper flakes, and stir well. Reduce the heat to medium, add the caramelized onion and the tomato paste, and stir well to coat the mushrooms and to dry the mixture slightly. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring.
3. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir it in. Ladle in 1 cup of the hot mushroom broth, stirring well as the mixture thickens. Add another cup of hot broth and let the ragu cook for another 5 minutes. If it’s too thin, cook it a bit longer; if too thick, add a bit more broth. Taste for seasoning. (The ragu can be made a few hours ahead and reheated.) The pan juices can be added instead of broth to fortify the mushroom flavor.
4. Serve over polenta. Sprinkle parsley before serving.

Serves 4 to 6

****** I used a Porcini mushrooms stock cube which I bought at the local Italian grocery store. In the UK it is available very easily, but if you cannot get, it then you can used David Tanis’s recipe below for making Porcini Mushroom Broth.

Porcini Mushroom Broth
1. Put 3 cups water in a saucepan and add a bay leaf, a few slices of dried porcini mushrooms or 2 teaspoons dry porcini powder (see below), half a small onion, 1 small celery stalk, and a small carrot, peeled and chopped. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes; strain.
2. {Variation} Dry Porcini Powder
3. Porcini powder is available at specialty shops, but it’s easy to make your own, to add intensity to the mushroom ragout or many other sauces or dishes. Dried porcini can sometimes be sandy. So, to get rid of any grit, soak a handful of them briefly in warm water, then blot them very well in a towel, put them on a baking sheet, and let them air-dry completely. When the mushrooms are dry, grind them up in a spice grinder and keep the powder in a jar in the freezer.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Roasted Broccoli Rabe with Lemon and Parmesan

Of all the bitter greens out there, broccoli rabe is my favorite bitter green. I have had it sauteed, made into a pesto, used it as a pizza topping and baked it with pasta. But never had it roasted until now - it was perfect. A quick blanch and then roasted in a very hot oven with thinly sliced garlic, crisps the leaves a tiny bit and topped with parmesan and a squirt of lemon makes these greens divine. I like to add some dried chili flakes for kick, but you can omit them if spice is not your thing.

Broccoli Rabe with Lemon and Parmesan


1 Bunch Broccoli Rabe
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive
2 large cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Zest of one lemon
Juice of ½ lemon
A healthy dose of grated parmesan
¼ teaspoon dried chili flakes (or less if you don't like it spicy)

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil – a 4 quart pot works well. In the meantime, prepare the broccoli rabe. Separate the stems from the leafy parts and set aside. Wash the leaves and florets. Trim and peel the stems to remove the fibrous parts. Now the rabe is ready to be blanched.
3. Once the water comes to a steady boil, add the leaves and the stems and cook for 2 minutes. Remove and drain.
4. Toss the blanched rabe with extra virgin olive oil, salt, garlic and chili flakes if using. Lay it out in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Roast in the middle rack for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and mix the lemon zest and sprinkle the grated parmesan over the rabe. Put the baking sheet back in the oven for another 2 minutes, till the parmesan is just melted.
5. Serve warm with a alio oglio pasta, roasted meats or fish.

Serves 3