Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mom's Taco Salad 2.0

One of my favorite dishes growing up was my mom's taco salad.

And, being a woman of Swedish decent from upstate New York, you know her recipe was muy auténtico.  Ground beef became delicioso taco meat thanks to the chemists at Old El Paso and their rust colored taco seasoning packet.  Iceberg lettuce, kidney beans, tomatoes, and onion were tossed together with almost an entire bottle of Thousand Island dressing (for a true south of the border taste) then topped with a pound of cheddar cheese and half a bag of crushed taco flavored Doritos.  Mmmm...yummy and olé.

Of course I would love this as a kid.  In fact, there are several adults I know now who would eagerly devour this concoction.  And need a side of defibrillator in between bites.

Challenge:  take a delicious taco salad and figure out how to make it healthier.

Replace ground beef with a flavorful combination of mushrooms, walnuts, onions, and garlic.  A combination of spinach, arugula, and Romaine replaces the bland iceberg lettuce now dressed with a fresh pico de gallo.  And, top off with shredded carrots instead of cheese.


Meatless Taco Salad

16 oz crimini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 cup onion (about 1/2 an onion), roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
1 cup walnuts
2 tsp olive oil
1 Tbl groun cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp chipotle powder
a pinch of cinnamon
2 tsp Kosher salt
6 cups greens (Romaine, spinach, arugula, shredded cabbage if you like)
1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
2 avocados, sliced
4 oz. cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 carrots, grated

For the pico de gallo

4 oz cherry or grape tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup red onion, roughly chopped
1 jalapeño, diced (ribs and seeds removed)
3 Tbl cilantro
1 lime, zest and juice
splash of red wine vinegar 
pinch of salt

In a food processor, combine mushrooms, walnuts, onion, and garlic and pulse until mixture is a chunky paste.  In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat and add mushroom mixture.  Season with cumin, coriander, chipotle powder, and salt, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook until slightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Set aside and cool slightly.

To prepare the pico de gallo, combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until combined. This should be slightly chunky.

In a large bowl, toss greens, black beans, and 2/3 of the carrots with enough pico de gallo to coat.  Divide evenly on four plates.  Top greens with mushroom mixture, halved tomatoes, avocado slices, and remaining carrots.  Add more pico de gallo if you wish!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

No Cheese Mac & Cheese

I am a mac and cheese connoisseur.

My love affair began when I was first introduced to that little blue box filled with elbow shaped pasta and a crazy looking orange powder.  Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was one of the first things my mom taught me how to "cook." It was better cheesy living through chemistry.  Later on, in my college years, I discovered the beauty that was Velveeta Shells and Cheese.  What's not to love about gooey cheese-like sauce squeezed out of a foil packet that didn't need to be refrigerated?  It was creamy goodness.

As an adult, I was introduced to a variety of new cheesy pasta love, mac and cheeses of all varieties:  truffled, Stilton, smoked cheddar with bacon.  You name it, I ate it.

And then I realized how so not good for you it is. 

So in the spirit of healthier eating, I thought I would play around with the ultimate comfort food to see what I could come up with.  Granted, nothing takes the place of real cheese (or even real fake cheese food like Velveeta), but its a delicious substitute that will satisfy the mac and cheese craving.

No Cheese Mac & Cheese

Nutritional yeast and earthy cauliflower combined with a puree of almonds provide a tasty alternative to real cheese. I add the tender outside leaves of Brussels sprouts for a little bit of color and texture.

1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
6 cups butternut squash (approximately one medium sized squash)
1 cup almonds, blanched
2 cloves garlic
1 cup water
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp fresh nutmeg
thyme bundle
1 lb whole wheat pasta (shells, macaroni, penne)
1 lb Brussels sprouts, outer leaves only (optional)

Place cauliflower, squash, garlic, garlic, and thyme in a large stock pot.  Cover with water, salt liberally, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until a fork slides easily into the vegetables, about 15 minutes.  Drain thoroughly and discard thyme bundle. 

In a food processor, puree blanched almonds and water until smooth, about five minutes.  Add cooked vegetables and garlic and process until smooth.  Add mustard, nutritional yeast, paprika, and nutmeg.  Pulse to combine.

Cook pasta according to the directions on the box, taking off a couple of minutes so the pasta is just under al dente.  Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid and drain pasta.  Return pasta to pot.  Add squash puree to pasta and stir to combine.  Thin sauce by slowly adding the pasta water until you have achieved the desired consistency.  Stir is blanched Brussels sprout leaves, if using.  Serve with a sprinkle of nooch.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Unleash Your Inner Bobby Flay

So there I was, standing in the produce section of Devon Market, just soaking in the huge variety of the bounty before me.  Dandelion greens, purple kohlrabi, parsley root, mountains of herbs, chiles or all shapes and sizes and potency, tomatillos...

Tomatillos?  I don't think I have ever made anything with tomatillos.  I mean, I know I have purchased them before, but I don't think they ever made an appearance in a dish.  They simply met an untimely end, wasting away in the veggie drawer of my fridge.

I know that they are a relative of the gooseberry and are a staple in Latin American cuisine.  After taking stock of what I had at home and going through my rolodex of south of the border falvors, I Unleashed my inner Bobby Flay, grabbed a couple tomatillos, some limes, fresh cilantro, and some chiles and ran back to my kitchen.

Here is what I came up with.

Fast and delicious!
Spicy Black Bean and Red Cabbage Salad with Tomatillo Salsa

This fiber rich salad is tangy, sweet, and spicy, and it comes together in minutes.  You can control the heat level by removing the seeds from the jalapeño for a more mild flavor.

1 28 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1/4 head of red cabbage (about 1 1/2 cups), sliced into thin strips
1/2 red onion, minced
1 jalapeño, minced
1 medium shallot, minced
2 tomatillos, husks removed and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp red wine vinegar
juice of 1 lime
2 tsp honey (or more to taste)
2 Tbl fresh cilantro, chopped
3 cups arugula
salt n' pepper

Combine tomatillos, jalapeño, shallot, garlic, cumin, vinegar, lime juice, honey and cilantro in a food processor.  Pulse until everything is incorporated but still a little chunky.  Season with salt and pepper.

Combine beans, corn, and cabbage in a large bowl.  Pour half of the salsa over and toss to combine.  Allow to sit for about 10 minutes so the dressing can be absorbed a bit.

In another bowl, toss arugula in remaining salsa (or enough to coat the greens).  Divide greens onto four plates.  Top each plate with the beans, cabbage, and corn.  Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Phinally Phigured Out Pho

It's hard to believe that it has been almost a year of Meatless Monday recipes.

And I think we should up the ante by trying our hand at a favorite of mine, pho.  Pho is a traditional Vietnamese soup usually consisting of rice noodles, fresh herbs, and either chicken or beef.  I love this dish for its amazingly aromatic broth; it's like an Asian version of chicken noodle soup.

Since we are trying to incorporate more of a plant based diet into our lives, I thought I would monkey around with a traditional recipe to find a more veggie friendly version.  What we've got is a fabulous vegetarian broth (if you omit the optional fish sauce) that will warm your soul on a chilly end of winter's night.

Now, you're going to freak out. 

Either by the list of ingredients or the phrase "char the onion over an open flame" or the word "cheesecloth."  But don't!  Yes, this appears to be a little more intricate than usual, and it does take some time.  And, I believe that you can do it!  So let's dive in!

Big bowl of yummy.
Veggie Pho

For the broth
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 3" piece ginger
1 turnip, cut into large chunks
1 lb carrots, cut into large chunks
2 leeks, white and light green parts
8 oz button mushrooms
2 stalks lemongrass
6 star anise
5 whole cloves
5 cardamom pods
1 2-3" cinnamon stick
1 tsp black peppercorns
12 cups water
1 tsp fish sauce (optional)

Soup accompaniments
rice noodles
edamame, cooked
thinly sliced onion
sliced jalapeño
bean sprouts
snow peas
lime wedges
fresh cilantro and basil

Using tongs, char the onion and ginger over an open flame.  If you have an electric stove, blacken the onions and ginger in a dry non-stick skillet.  Slice ginger in half lengthwise.

Trim the lemongrass, and bruise by whacking the stalks with the back of your knife.  (Kind of like you are chopping with the dull side.)  Cut into small chunks.

In a large stock pot, add onions, carrots, leeks, mushrooms, turnip, ginger, and lemongrass.  Place star anise, cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, and cinnamon stick in a cheesecloth pouch and add to the pot.  (Don't have cheesecloth, use a tea ball!)  Cover with 12 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 2 hours.  After an hour, season with salt (or fish sauce, if you are using).

After two hours, remove spice pouch and drain through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth (paper towels or coffee filters will work, too) discarding solids.

Voila! Pho broth.

Now it's kind of "build your own" from here.  Traditional garnishes are rice noodles, herbs, onions, and chiles.  I like adding edamame and snow peas in mine.  But play around! 

To cook rice noodles, soak them in cold water for about twenty minutes.  Throw into boiling water for three minutes and drain.  They are going to stick, but to lessen the stickiness invert a small bowl in the colander so the noodles can drape over it.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Meatless (and Oilless) Monday

So my good friend Nicole threw down the gauntlet.  Make a vegan meal completely oil free.

And I panicked. 

How could you possibly make something tasty without oil?!  Well, as Nicole pointed out, without oil doesn't mean without fat.  She pointed me towards nuts, olives, tahini, seeds, avocados and the like.  And she's always wanted me to cook with nutritional yeast (or more affectionately referred to as "nooch").

Okay.  This occasional carnivore is totally diving into some oil-free vegan love.

Whole Wheat Shells with Almond Garlic Sauce and Green Things

A perfect substitute for those alfredo lovers.  Creamy, extremely flavorful, and filled with green things, you would never guess that it is oil free!

1 cup blanched almonds
1 cup water
16 oz whole wheat shells
3 cloves garlic
8 oz frozen peas
1/2 lb asparagus, sliced into thin diagonal pieces
2 1/2 cups spinach
1 1/2 Tbl lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh basil
1 Tbl nutritional yeast
salt and pepper

In a food processor or blender, combine almonds, water, garlic, and a pinch of salt and puree until smooth.  Just leave that sucker running for about 5 minutes.

Cook pasta in salted water until just before al dente (usually about half the suggested cooking time).  Drain pasta and reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid.

In a large pan over medium heat, whisk together almond puree and 1 cup pasta water for about 3 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add remaining cup of water, peas, and asparagus and cook for another 3 minutes until the sauce has thickened.  Add lemon juice, mint, basil, and nooch.  Stir to combine.  Add pasta and cook until pasta is al dente, about another 2-3 minutes.  Fold in spinach, and toss to wilt.  Spoon into bowls and garnish with toasted almonds, mint, and basil.