Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chili Rellano—An Unstuffed Vegan Version

Once the ingredients enter the mouth, and hit the tongue, do you think our taste buds really know, or care, if the poblano was whole, in tact, sans seeds, when filled with goodies? Heck, no! The pieces of roasted pepper, and in this case, vibrant black beans and rich, chewy rice topped with spicy tomatoes, all blend together to provide a party in the mouth.

Chili rellanos were a favorite of mine for many years, especially as prepared at Paco's restaurant in Orlando. Theirs, too, was a unique take on the familiar traditional poblano pepper stuffed with cheese, dipped in batter and deep fried.

I found a package of 3 beautifully formed poblanos when I shopped last week. My intention was to use them to make the delicious raw version that I haven't made in quite some time.
But when the day dawned cloudy with showers, I decided a tray of warm, comfort food would be just the thing.

I roasted the poblanos for about 20 minutes and then placed them in a bowl and covered them with plastic wrap to sweat. Meanwhile, I cooked a cup of Lundberg Farms mahogany rice, and opened a can of organic black beans, which I rinsed well.

When the peppers had cooled enough to handle easily, I rubbed off the roasted outer skin and then gently removed the stem, sliced each open, and removed the seeds. I had the idea to prepare the chilis as a casserole rather than try to stuff them.

In a 13 x 9 baking dish, which I lightly brushed with a half teaspoon of olive oil (just to prevent any sticking), I spread the pieces of pepper to cover the bottom of the dish. Then I spooned on a layer of the cooked rice, then a layer of the black beans. I topped the beans with a 15 oz can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes.

I covered the dish tightly with foil and let it roast for about 45 minutes in a 350° oven. Non-vegans could easily add some zingy shredded cheese, and vegans who eat faux cheese could add that. A few sliced pickled jalepeños scattered around would add a little zip, too.

It's particularly good with a side of salsa fresca (diced tomato, green onion, cilantro and fresh lime juice) and I can vouch for it being even better as a leftover.

It keeps for several days in the refrigerator and reheats well.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Citrus Inspired Salad
With juicy ruby red grapefruit plentiful at the market, I was inspired to make a luncheon salad based on an appetizer I'd seen in The Conscious Cook. Tal Ronnen gives instructions along with a handsome image for shiso bites.

Despite no shiso leaves, the components held a lot of appeal and when I came home with a 5 pound bag of grapefruit my lunch became a salad adapted from my memory of Ronnen's appetizer.

Thinly sliced green cabbage or Napa cabbage
Sliced red radishes
Julienned fresh daikon
Red grapefruit segments
Grapefruit juice
Sea Salt
Cayenne Pepper
Sesame Seeds
To serve one, as pictured, I used approximately 1 cup of sliced cabbage, half a dozen red radishes, about a 3 inch piece of daikon, segments from a whole grapefruit with half the juice, a dash of salt and a pinch of cayenne, then sprinkled the top with white sesame seeds. Increase the amount of each item for more servings.
The citrus juice will soften the cabbage a bit if you toss it by itself first and let it rest while you prepare the rest of the salad. Or not, the crunch from the cabbage, radishes and daikon makes a nice change from salads made with soft greens.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Yakisoba— A New Comfort Food
When we think 'comfort food' we most often think of 'peasant food'. Simple dishes made with inexpensive, plentiful ingredients, that not only satisfy our hunger, but tend to make us feel warm and fuzzy with memories of childhood, gram ma's house, or lean years when we weren't so invested in accumulating 'stuff' but were happy with a hot meal on the table each day.

I recently ran across this wonderful noodle dish in Mark Bittman's minimalist column in the NY Times. Mark made his version with thinly sliced pork, but it could certainly be made with chicken or even tofu.
I chose to make it with just vegetables. Shredded Napa cabbage, carrots, sweet onion, wilted down with minced fresh ginger, then mixed with cooked noodles and a zingy sauce that's easily concocted by opening a few bottles of condiments and stirring together an enhancing combination of sweet, savory, salty and hot.
Like most vegan dishes I make, I thought it was fine without the need for added protein. And finer yet the next day, when I reheated the leftovers. Best, warmed slowly in the top of a double boiler. But then, I tossed the microwave out years ago. The double boiler is my 'go to' method for reheating almost everything.
For a complete ingredient list and step by step instructions, check out Mark's column.
Great food need not be complicated nor expensive, and the preparation need not be difficult nor time consuming. Try some easy one pot/one dish meals. Easy on the cook, easy on the budget, too!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cabbage Rolls
With big fresh heads of bright green cabbage on sale at the market this week, I just had to have an old favorite: stuffed cabbage.

I use the same basic stuffing for cabbage leaves as I do for red peppers , but add a little sweet and savory surprise: raisins and olives. In this case, Italian brine-cured Gaeta olives, finely diced and mixed with my favorite Lundberg mahogany rice, diced celery and diced onion and minced garlic.

My friend, Helen, gave me a jar of the olives. Her mother used them in her stuffing for peppers, but instead of rice, she used bread as a base. Gaeta olives are often dry cured, which makes them very black and wrinkled, or brine cured which leaves them dark purple and smooth skinned, much like a Kalamata olive, which would be a good substitute.

I used the big bright green outer leaves of the head for stuffing. After washing them well in cold water, I let them sit in a wide pan of hot water to soften them. Cutting out the center hard stem makes the leaves easy to work with. Treat the leaf as you would a tortilla for stuffing a burrito. Lay it on a flat surface, put a couple of tablespoons of filling about a third of the way up the leaf (use an amount of filling to match the size of the leaf. Too much filling and it will pop open) then roll up and fold in the sides. Place the roll, seam side down, in a baking dish.

The rolls should cook with some liquid. They can be steamed or simmered on top of the stove, or as I prefer to do it, the lazy man's way, covered and baked in a 350° oven for about an hour.

I like a bit of tomato sauce in the braising liquid. On this occasion, I used a cup of diced tomatoes which had been cooked down with garlic and herbs (leftover pizza topping). I added the cup of tomato sauce to 2 cups of very hot veggie broth and poured that over the stuffed rolls. I had a bit of filling leftover, so as not to waste, I spread that evenly over the rolls before adding the sauce. A can of tomato sauce stretched with veggie broth would do as well, or just broth without the added tomato is fine, too.

This is another easy meal that adapts to what's on hand and is easy to make with a little practice.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Leftovers AGAIN?

Here's a quick, light lunch made with a little imagination and some great leftovers.
Ya gotta love those leftovers—often a treasure trove tucked in the fridge.

As a kid I shuddered to eat the same foods reheated time and time again. My mother cooked food in huge quantities on a Sunday and we ate it, reheated over and over throughout the week. With each reheating the vegetables became mushier and mushier and the flavors lost their initial appeal.

For years afterwards, as a grown-up out on my own, I refused to cook 'too much'. Often not having quite enough for seconds or extra if anyone dropped in. Ask my sons.

But as the years have gone by, or perhaps as I've grown wiser with age, having extras tucked in the fridge has become a boon.

Take today, for instance.

Remember the roasted cauliflower from one night last week? And how about that great melange of Swiss chard with onions and raisins? Here they are, again, served cold, stuffed into crisp pockets of Boston lettuce, drizzled with a fresh batch of Angela Elliot's Satay sauce.

See how these things all come together for good?

A little imagination coupled with some tasty leftovers can be magic.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Red Swiss Chard

A fridge filled with leftovers is often one of the big advantages to cooking. Today was one of those days. I'd picked up a lovely big bunch of red Swiss chard at the produce market and knew it couldn't linger much longer before being used up.

As I wondered how best to use it, I thought of greens and beans, or greens and grains and knew the slightly bitter greens would do well balanced with a little something sweet and perhaps a little acidity.

The fridge held the answer. I had some leftover thick, spicy marinara sauce that I'd made for pizza topping and a bowl of baked quinoa. All I had to do was clean and cook the chard and then assemble a tasty lunch.

The stems require a bit more cooking time than the greens. Separate the thick stem from the greens and then slice the stems crosswise into small pieces. These I sautéed with a diced sweet onion and two cloves of garlic, finely minced. I started the onions in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large 14" sauté pan to give the greens plenty of room to wilt down once they were added.

When the onions became fragrant, I added the sliced stems and a dash of water, covered the pan and let them sweat for a few minutes, then uncovered and added the minced garlic. Continue cooking the stems and onions until they become tender but not mushy. Meanwhile, stack the greens, roll up and slice into ribbons (chiffonade). Add to the pan tossing with the stems and onions. I added 1/4 cup of dry white wine (water or veggie broth are fine as an alternative). The greens cook down very quickly. While this was happening, I toasted 1/4 cup of pine nuts in a dry pan and measured out 1/4 cup of dark raisins.

When the greens are just about wilted, add the raisins tossing to mix everything and add salt and pepper to taste.

I chose to plate the combination using a mold and layering, first some marinara sauce, then the quinoa with a spoonful of sauce over top. Then I packed on a generous portion of the finished Swiss chard. I sprinkled the portion liberally with pine nuts.

It looked lovely but tasted even better.

The Swiss chard alone makes a wonderful side dish. Don't be afraid to combine it with grains or beans or even sweet potatoes for a quick flavorful meal. Rice and chard rolled up in a tortilla with a big dollop of spicy salsa is another super way to use these greens.