Fancy Grilled Cheese

Fancy Grilled Cheese, Mexican-Style

I used to have a general menu plan for the week because I thought it would be easier to impose some sort of boundaries on meals (“Oh, it’s meatloaf night!” so that’s what I make . . . well, not exactly meatloaf around here, but you know what I mean) and make sure I am not making, say, pasta, three nights in a row (which is completely within the realm of possibility).

Sunday: Wild Card (Scott usually cooks Sunday nights)

Monday: Tofu or some other kind of soy

Tuesday: Soup

Wednesday: Salad

Thursday: Eggs

Friday: Pizza or sandwiches

Saturday: Pasta

This, like many of my other Ordnung fueled plans, fell by the wayside except for Fridays. I still typically make pizza or sandwiches (my definition of sandwich is quite broad . . . it includes fajitas, quesadillas and burritos, for example). This particular Friday, I was paging through Everyday Greens, San Francisco chef Annie Somerville’s follow-up to the more complicated Fields of Greens. I have many favorite recipes from Somerville. I don’t let a summer pass without making Spicy Corn and Chick-pea Soup with Chiles, for example. The first time my dear friend Susan invited us over for dinner maybe 15 years ago, she and her husband Tom made the time consuming but delicious Port Wine and Mushroom Lasagna. The fact that I remember it speaks volumes for the recipe and its execution. The recipes are almost always complex, but well worth the effort. I digress with my food nostalgia, however.

The sandwich recipe I landed on this particular Friday was for grilled cheese . . . but not just any grilled cheese . . . a grilled-poblano-and-onion-with-cheddar-and-cilantro-pesto grilled cheese.

Truth be told, I made one plain old sharp white cheddar grilled cheese because I didn’t think Alia would be willing to stray from her beloved standard. Luca almost choked on a poblano that was hotter than I expected so he also ate part of the plain one. Scott and I happily devoured an entire sandwich each.

If you don’t make this particular one, consider making up your own custom fancy grilled cheese. Have a few stray mushrooms kicking around the crisper? Make a carmelized-onion-sauteed-mushroom-cheddar grilled cheese. It’s summertime which means there is copious amounts of zucchini. How about fried shredded zucchini, basil and caramelized onions (again!)? Clean out your vegetable drawer. Substitute vegetables for half the cheese . . . hear applause from your family and nutritionist!

Grilled Mexican Sandwich with Poblano Chilies and Cheddar

adapted from Annie Somerville’s Everyday Greens

makes 4 sandwiches

1/2 large red onion peeled and sliced into 1/2 ” thick rings

1 poblano chile

Garlic oil (Steep two minced cloves of garlic in 1/2 cup olive oil for 30 minutes. Strain out the garlic and reserve for the cilantro pesto. Store remaining oil in a glass jar in the fridge.)

Salt and pepper

8 slices of whole wheat bread (I bought a homemade loaf at our local co-op)

6-8 ounces sharp white cheddar, thinly sliced or grated

Cilantro pesto (Throw about 1/2 the chopped garlic from the garlic oil, a handful of cilantro leaves (about 1/2 cup), a couple glugs of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lime juice in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Taste and season with salt)

Unsalted butter, softened (for grilling the sandwiches)

Heat a gas grill to medium. Brush the onion slices and poblano with garlic oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you have a  grill skillet, place the whole poblano and onion slices in the skillet and grill onions until tender (about 3-4 minutes on each side) and poblano until the skin is charred and blistered. Alternately, stick a skewer or two through the onion rings to keep them together and place on the grill. Carefully turn after 3-4 minutes. When the poblano is done, place it in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or in a paper bag. When cool, peel, cut in half and seed. Put the onions and chile in a bowl and give one more sprinkle of salt and a grind of pepper.

Place 4 slices of bread on a work surface. Layer cheese, poblano and onion on top and drizzle with cilantro pesto. Leave the fancy stuff off 1-2 sandwiches as needed. Place the other 4 slices of bread on top of the sandwiches and spread with butter. Place the sandwiches, buttered side down, in a skillet or on a griddle heated to medium. Then, spread the top side with butter. Place a lid on the frying pan to help the cheese to melt. Cook until golden, 4-5 minutes, then turn and cook the other side. Serve immediately with a romaine, radish and avocado salad with a lime vinaigrette on the side.

Ratings:

Me:     A- (It is STILL grilled cheese, thus the -.)

Scott: B+

Luca: A (“even though it was too spicy for me”)

Alia:   lots of B+s (this is a rating of a plain grilled cheese)

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Lettuce Wrap Lunatic

Zesty lime and peanut lettuce wraps

Where have I been? How is it that I have missed the lettuce wrap craze? Heck, even the cattle wrastler Pioneer Woman has a recipe for tofu lettuce wraps. I have not been to P.F. Chang’s so maybe that explains it. And, ‘low-carb’ is not a hyphenated word you hear around our house often. I did witness one of my friends ordering a Jimmy John’s sandwich wrapped in lettuce once. “LETTUCE instead of BREAD?!” I thought. “What the hell?”.

Mea maxima culpe (because mea culpe isn’t enough here).

After I made one batch of the filling for these wraps, I ate half of it before it even hit the table. This required me to fry up another pound of tofu. We ate the wraps for dinner, then I had them for breakfast and the last bit for lunch the next day. To say I love these is an understatement . . . I love these more than cheese or ice cream  . . .

Or pie. Yes, I typed ‘pie’.

Thai-Style Tofu Lettuce Wraps

serves 4 generously

adapted from The Cozy Apron

Filling

1 pound extra-firm or firm tofu, cut into slabs, blotted dry with paper towel and crumbled
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
2 scallions, white and light green parts, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon vegetarian oyster sauce (The original recipe calls for fish sauce. I think you could also use soy sauce or hoisin.)
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
Pinch black pepper

Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the crumbled tofu, seasoning with a pinch of salt. Resist the urge to stir the tofu. Let it fry for at least 5 minutes. Stir when you see the edges of some of the crumbles brown. I use a metal spatula to scoop up the bits that stick. If you let it get somewhat crispy, there should be minimal sticking. Cook until most of the tofu bits are light to medium brown. The key here is not disturbing it too much.

In a medium-large bowl, add the cooked and cooled tofu; next add the remainder of the ingredients, and toss all together until well combined; set aside while you prepare the dipping sauce.

Sweetly Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

makes about 1/2 cup (More than enough for the wraps. The original recipe is double this. I really don’t like it when there is a lot of sauce leftover because it inevitably sits in the fridge until I throw it away one month later. Yes, I could go out of my way to find something to do with it. Sometimes I do. But, more often it goes to waste.)

1/4 cup natural peanut butter
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
3/4 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sriracha

In a medium bowl (or a food processor), combine all ingredients and gently whisk together to combine; at first the sauce may look “broken”, but it will come together- just continue to whisk until smooth and creamy; set aside until ready to serve with wraps.

To Serve

2 tablespoons dry roasted peanuts, chopped, for garnish
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges for garnish
20 Romaine leaves, bottom half of the leaves’ hard “rib” portions removed

Fill boat-shaped Romaine leaves with the tofu mixture. Top with peanut sauce, chopped peanuts and a squeeze of lime juice. Swoon accordingly.

I served sauteed and steamed broccoli on the side.

Ratings:

Me:  A++ (To infinity, really)

Scott:  B (He is not a big fan of the spines in Romaine, so this may have something to do with his ratings. I could see serving the crumbled tofu in a tortilla or over noodles the avoid the lettuce spine avoidance.)

Luca:  B+ (“This is exotic.” Then he choked on a red pepper flake so I think that may have something to with the rating.)

Alia:  A++ (And, she meant it this time. I did serve hers over rice because I didn’t want to argue about the lettuce.)

Voilà Quinoa

Quinoa Burgers

Quinoa is the darling of the health food world. It offers one-stop nutrition with its complete protein, loads of fiber, phosphorus (!), magnesium and iron. According to Wikipedia, quinoa is being considered for consumption on long space flights because of its high nutritional value. And, you can even wash clothes with the saponin that coats quinoa.

I can guarantee there is almost always a bag of quinoa in our freezer . . . which has been there for about 6 months. Despite how good this pseudocereal is for us, I have had a hard time incorporating it into our regular meal rotation. Rice seems to have earned squatter’s rights on our plates and it hasn’t budged.

On the occasions that I have gone against the (rice) grain, two types of quinoa preparations have proven successful – salads and croquettes. My two favorite salads are Double Broccoli Quinoa and Quinoa and Black Bean Salad – both are particularly good for potlucks and cook-outs. My first foray into quinoa was Deborah Madison’s Spicy Quinoa and Potato Croquettes, which are particularly tasty topped with Moroccan Chermoula. The quinoa burgers I found on Pinterest are along the same lines as the croquettes without the potatoes. They are much like what I imagine turkey or chicken burgers to be – delicate and subtle with a pleasant grainy texture. Unfortunately, I had the bright idea to douse mine with sweet-spicy barbeque sauce and vinegary slaw. The quinoa burger didn’t have a chance under all those pungent tastes. I tried again the next day. This time, I dolloped a bit of horseradish mayonnaise on top, which was perfect.

Move over rice. Voilà, it’s quinoa!

Quinoa Burgers

makes 10-12

adapted from Eating Well Living Thinner

scant 3 cups cooked quinoa (see below for cooking instructions)

3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or other variety, if you prefer)

1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese

1 medium carrot, finely grated (I think you could easily add 2 carrots.)

3 eggs

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

2 green onions, chopped, including white parts

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic pepper

Olive oil for pan frying

In a large bowl combine the cooked quinoa, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, carrot, eggs, flour, green onions, cilantro, pepper, cumin, salt, and garlic pepper.

Heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  My mixture had the consistency of thick pancake batter so I used a 1/2 cup measure to dip out a scant 1/2 cup for each patty.  Three patties fit in the frying pan at a time. Cover and let fry undisturbed for 5 minutes. Once the edges look dry and there are some bubbles on the surface, turn up the heat to medium high for a few minutes to brown the patty. Flip and fry the other sides on medium high for 3-4 minutes. The patties should be firm to the touch. Repeat procedure with the rest of the mixture until it is all used up.

Serve on a bun with burger fixings of your choice. The flavor is somewhat delicate, so mild condiments work best here.

You could easily freeze the leftovers and reheat the patties in a 350 oven for about 8-10 minutes.

To cook quinoa:

1 cup uncooked quinoa

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

Put quinoa in a mesh strainer and rinse with warm water for a few minutes. This helps remove any residual bitter tasting saponin. In a medium saucepan bring the 2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil over high heat.  Add quinoa and reduce heat to low.  Cover and cook for 18-20 minutes, or until all water is absorbed and the seeds are tender.  Allow to cool for a few minutes.

Ratings:

Me:  A (based on the second time I ate one with horseradish mayonnaise)

Scott:  A

Luca:  B

Alia:  B (With a little prodding, she ate all the burger and left the bun.

Egg Salad with a Kick – No Fooling!

Egg salad sliced tomatoes tucked into a pita

Lunches for adults are most often an afterthought around here. There is thought put into lunches packed for school and daycare . . . deep thought. Are they balanced? Will they eat what’s packed? Is there too much dairy? Too much grain? Can I slip in another fruit or vegetable? But the adults eat leftovers or a banana and granola bar woofed down at a desk or standing in the kitchen.

On this particular Friday afternoon, I found myself with some time on my hands and a few beautiful, local, free range eggs. A jar of prepared horseradish provided some inspiration.

I still woofed down lunch standing at the kitchen counter, but it was one tasty inhale. Since hard boiled egg fest is coming up next weekend, you may want to tuck this recipe in your back pocket.

Egg Salad with a Kick

adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

serves one hungry mother

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons mayonnaise (I used Hellman’s light)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 – 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

2 teaspoons chopped chives

Salt and pepper to taste

Place 3 eggs in a sauce pan. Add water to cover with 1-2 inches above the eggs. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Transfer eggs to an ice bath and cool for about 10 minutes.

Peel eggs and chop. In a medium bowl, mix with mayonnaise, mustard, horseradish (to taste), and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Rating:

Me:  A (This is the best egg salad I have made.)

(No one else had this or cared to . . . and for this, I am grateful.)

Quick Comfort

Image

We are just back from a long weekend trip to my hometown – South Bend/Mishawaka, IN. My mom’s birthday is the first day of spring, so we usually make the trek the last weekend of our spring break. There wasn’t a lot of cooking done there – except for chocolate cupcakes which I will save for another post. My head is reeling at the moment . . . where DID spring break go? It was such a tease . . . unseasonably warm weather giving us glimpses of the summer to come, but alas, seven more weeks of school. Sigh.

After being car-bound with two kids most of this particular beautiful day, I wanted a quick and comforting dinner. Enter Pioneer Woman, some pantry ingredients, a few sorry looking green beans and a quick trip to the grocery. I am the Mistress of the Tweak (if I do say so myself). This recipe is a good example of my (sometimes questionable, sometimes brilliant) skills. I have tried many a bean burrito recipe and have found all of them to be bland until I stumbled across 16 Minute Beef and Bean Burritos. You may wonder what business a vegetarian has looking at such a beefy recipe. This is where the tweaking comes in. A little Yves Meatless Ground Round and one can of black beans and – viola – “beef” and bean burritos.

For the side, I had a handful of green beans that were a day or two away from the compost bin. Not all that appetizing, I know, but I am being truthful here. How often do you have a partial bag of some sort of random vegetable knocking around in the vegetable bin? I think they are fair game as long as they are not slimy or discolored. The green beans were as good as new after a few extra minutes in a rolling boil. Toss the beans with a little extra-virgin olive oil, pepper and smoked salt and serve next to the hearty, spicy burritos and you have quick comfort on a plate.

16 Minute Veggie “Beef” and Bean Burritos

adapted from Pioneer Woman Cooks

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1/2 whole medium onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or epazote

1 teaspoon chile powder

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

1 15 oz. can reduced salt black beans, drained

1 12 oz. package Yves Meatless Ground Round (or ground meat of your choice)

1 7 ounce can Mexican tomato sauce or enchilada sauce (I use the one with the duck on the can)

salt and pepper, to taste

3/4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

4-6 large flour tortillas

a handful of cilantro leaves, chopped

Optional Filling Ingredients: Mexican Rice, Sour Cream, Guacamole, Green Chilies, Pico De Gallo

Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy frying pan over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent and beginning to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add the cumin, oregano, chile powder and garlic. Cook for about 1 minute until you can smell the spices. Add the beans, Meatless Ground Round and about 1/2 the can of sauce. Heat everything through, then season to taste. I usually add about 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add cheese and stir in till melted. Keep warm.

Heat tortillas in microwave for one minute. Pour a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a shallow casserole that will fit 4-6 burritos.

Spread about 1/2 cup of bean mixture on each tortilla. Fold over ends, then roll up. Place burritos in the casserole and drizzle red sauce over the top and sprinkle with more grated cheddar. I drizzle half of the burritos with more sauce and just put cheese on the other half. Heat in the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and burritos are very hot. Serve immediately.

More tweak ideas: Skip the Yves Meatless Ground Round and use 3 cans of drained beans instead. Or substitute some sort of ground beef or chicken for the meat analogue. But, before you go for the red meat, read this: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/13/health/la-he-red-meat-20120313.

Ratings:

Me:  A- (They are good, but let’s face it, they are still burritos.)

Scott:  A-

Luca:  A- (Not exactly an A.)

Alia:  C (She ate them with some prodding, so that warrants a C in my book)

Savory Stuffing Ball Sandwiches

We used to eat Morningstar Farms veggie products once or twice a week. They are convenient like any other frozen meal and they tasted good to us . . . especially the breakfast “sausage” and “bacon.” Ever since watching Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution,” I have questioned buying this stuff. Yes, it is vegetarian, but it is highly processed. The ingredient list is paragraphs long full of as many unpronounceable words as McDonald’s chicken nuggets. And, then there is the packaging –  one cardboard box for 4-6 products packaged in multiple plastic bags. And, finally the expense. One box is nearly $5 retail.

With all this in mind, we gave up the green boxes a few months ago. I thought it was going to be hard to get off the veggie crack, but we barely batted our meatless eyelashes. We adjusted by making things like savory stuffing balls and freezing them to have on hand for a quick meal. There is often a bag of gnocchi or Asian dumplings in the freezer as well.

And, we haven’t given up “meat analogues” completely. We just make better choices . . . buying things like Quorn or Field Roast brands that are made from whole foods with few or no additives . . . and eat them occasionally instead of weekly. Some of you may wonder why we bother with fake meat at all . . . we ARE vegetarians after all. Yes, we are vegetarians, but we live in a meat eating society. We weren’t raised vegetarian and sometimes crave the comfort foods of our childhood. Meat analogues are convenient and sometimes add a flavor and texture that is difficult to find in, say, broccoli.

Savory Stuffing Balls

Adapted from the November 1994 issue of Veggie Life

makes 16 or more balls

1/2 cup cornmeal

1 cup panko breadcrumbs (This makes a lighter ball.)

1/4 cup wheat germ

1/3 cup minced yellow onion

2 cloves minced garlic

1 tablespoon each fresh parsley, sage, and basil (In the winter, I have fresh parsley, but not fresh sage and basil so I substitute 1 teaspoon dried.)

2 eggs beaten

1/2 teaspoon each smoked paprika, salt and pepper

1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese, blended to the texture of ricotta (If you can get good ricotta, you can use that as well.)

1/2 cup grated parmesan or romano

  1. Mix the cornmeal, breadcrumbs, wheat germ, onion, garlic, parsley, sage, and basil. Add the egg, paprika, salt and pepper, blending well. Mix in the cheeses.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Form mixture into balls the size of walnuts, place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until browned.

Most often we heat these up in a pan of jarred sauce and serve on sub rolls with fries or a salad on the side.

Kalesadilla

Kale meets cheese in a corn tortilla

Scott takes Luca to Cub Scouts a few times a month, so Alia and I fend for ourselves at dinnertime. Sometimes, I heat up leftovers for her and grab a handful of peanuts for myself. I think I am missing an opportunity for some one-on-one time with our quickly growing imp. So, I decided we would sit down and eat dinner just the two of us. While Alia rambled on about our cats, the birthday cards she made for Scott (Happy Birthday, Scott!), Flat Stanleyand James’ return to daycare, we ate Spanish rice leftover from Sunday night along with quesadillas stuffed with kale and cheese.

Some nights, planning dinner is like a segment of “Use It Up” on Everyday Food on Martha Stewart Living radio (Not sure if it is on any more. We cancelled our Sirius). Listeners called in with random ingredients and Sandy Gluck gave them recipe ideas. I had a bunch of kale that was starting to go south in the fridge. There was also some Greek feta and shredded mozzarella I always keep on hand . . . and a package of corn tortillas I bought for tempeh tacos. I had this recipe pinned on Pinterest.

The topic of kale came up a few months ago at a party. A friend asked a group of well-seasoned home cooks how we worked kale into our diets. Then, and over the course of a few months, we had so many suggestions we could have written a kale cookbook – kale and potato Spanish tortilla, kale and potato enchiladas, kale lasagna, kale and ricotta stuffed shells, sweet potato kale pizza, kale and feta egg bake . . . and how about kale pesto? I could go on, but I think you can see that kale is very versatile. Use it much like you use spinach – even in salads. It is a much sturdier green, which I appreciate. Spinach can break down into slimy goop so easily. Kale has a backbone and keeps it shape and some of its texture. Here is another recipe to add to the kale cookbook.

Kalesadilla

adapted from Serious Eats (makes about 9)

2 tablespoons oil

1/3 cup minced red onion

3/4 pound curly kale, chopped (You can also use the flatter lacinto variety . . . what ever is available)

1/2 teaspoon salt (Start out with a scant 1/2 teaspoon and add more if needed. The original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon and that was a bit too much. The amount of salt depends on the saltiness of the feta you use.)

1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes or to taste

2 cloves minced garlic

1 cup diced feta cheese

9-12 corn tortillas

1 cup shredded mozzarella (I keep a bag of Kraft shredded mozzarella in the fridge ever since Cook’s Illustrated gave it a decent rating in a taste test. It is not organic, gourmet cheese, but it tastes pretty good and keeps well.)

In large (12-inch) skillet (I use cast iron), heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and beginning to brown, 3-5 minutes. Add chopped kale with any water clinging to leaves, along with salt, chile flakes, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until greens are tender, about 10 minutes. Add water as necessary to keep skillet from drying out.

When greens are cooked, stir in feta and remove from heat. Season to taste with salt if necessary. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out the skillet. Resist the urge to eat all the filling before it makes it into the tortillas.

In the same skillet, heat remaining oil over medium-high heat until shimmering, using a spatula to spread evenly on surface. Add as many tortillas as will fit and cook on one side until softened, 2-3 minutes. Flip, then spoon 2-3 tablespoons of filling onto tortillas. Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of mozzarella on top of the filling. Use a spatula to fold tortillas in half.

Cook until tortillas are golden and cheese is melted, 2-3 minutes per side. If necessary, keep cooked quesadillas in warm oven until all are cooked. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling. Serve immediately.

I served with leftover Spanish rice.

Ratings:

Me:  A

Alia: D (She ate it but with much prodding.)

The Other T Word

Tempeh Taco Goodness

Tempeh. “What-eh?” you may be thinking. Tempeh. Fermented soybean cakes. Mmmmmmmm. No, really, Mmmmmmm! Two tempeh dishes are on regular menu rotation here – tempeh fajitas from the now defunct Veggie Life and Baja-style tempeh tacos from Veganomicon (say that six times fast). I have seen recipes for tempeh “bacon” and fried rice, but I have stuck with the Mexican preparations so far.

What’s the appeal of tempeh? Like tofu, it is something that is often used as a meat stand-in in vegetarian diets in the west. Tempeh is firmer and can have a more crumbly texture than tofu. It is a blank canvas – it takes on whatever flavors you put it in, which is why marinading is a good idea. It is a source of vitamin B 12 which can be scarce in vegetarian diets.

However you slice it, tempeh gets high marks in our house. If you don’t want to embark on the tempeh adventure, you can always substitute chicken!

Baja-Style Tempeh Tacos adapted from Veganomicon

serves 4 (about 2 tacos each)

Note: Each component needs about an hour to meld or marinate. So plan accordingly.

Taco Slaw:

3 cups shredded cabbage, preferable Savoy

1 carrot, grated

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 serrano chile, seeded and membranes removed, minced (I use serranos instead of jalapenos. They have a deeper flavor.)

salt, pepper

Lime Crema

1/3 c. sour cream

1 Tbs. lime juice

1 Tbs. vegetable oil (I use sunflower)

2 Tbs. cilantro

1/4 tsp. salt

Tempeh Marinade

3/4 cup beer

2 cloves garlic, crushed and papery skin removed

2 Tbs. peanut oil

2 Tbs . soy sauce

2 Tbs. lime juice

2-3 tsp. chile powder

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1 8-oz package tempeh

8-12 corn tortillas

Toppings like thinly sliced radishes, diced tomatoes, diced avocados, taco sauce, pickled jalapenos, whatever you like.

For the slaw: Mix all of the ingredients in a non-metallic bowl and then place a weight on top of the slaw (something like a small plate or other flat object with heavy can on top of it). Let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour. If it’s very juicy, you can squeeze the juice out of it before adding to your taco.

For the crema: blend all the ingredients together and let it chill for an hour.

For the tempeh: Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a shallow container like a pie plate. Cut the tempeh lengthwise in 3 equal portions, then slice each in half horizontally. Marinate the tempeh for an hour, turning occasionally.

Pan fry the tempeh in a lightly oiled cast iron skillet over medium heat. Brown each side – maybe about 5 minutes a side – then pour the marinade into the pan and cook over medium until most of the marinade has soaked into the tempeh. Slice the tempeh into thin strips.

Heat up the corn tortillas (I wrap mine in a damp towel and microwave for 1 minute). Put a few strips of tempeh in the middle of your tortilla and top with abandon – slaw, crema, taco sauce, tomatoes, radishes, pickled jalapenos,avocados.

I served Mexican rice on the side.

Ratings:

Me:     A (This is one of my favorites)

Scott:  B

Luca:  B

Alia:   A

Awful, Awful?

Falafel and Fixings

Luca had a picture book titled Beetle McGrady Eats Bugs (given to him by Kami, friend and childcare provider extraordinaire) that was a bit of an obsession for a while. Part of the plot centers around kids eating unusual foods . . . falafel being one of them. One of the characters pronounces it “Awful! Awful!” That always got my ire up. How dare that petulant child insult those lovely fried chickpea patties?!

I have eaten falafel in Paris . . . in Florence and London . . . but more often at a little hole-in-the-wall place in U.City across from the now defunct Saleem’s (where garlic was king) when I worked at Craft Alliance. If I happened to stay and eat the falafel sandwich there, I always came back to work reeking of garlic and grease (in a good way). Each and every time, it was crumbly chickpeas mixed with spices and lots of parsley (and cilantro?) fried to dark brown perfection. I attempted to recreate it at home using mixes and recipes, but it never came close to what I had experienced near and far until . . .

I had the nerve to try My Favorite Falafel from Epicurious. Why did it take nerve? Raw chickpeas, of course. I was very skeptical of soaking rather than cooking dried chickpeas. I thought the crumbly little bits would be hard as a rock . . . inedible. They are not. Soaking rather than cooking (and using bulgur wheat as a binder) gives the falafel the structure I was looking for. The mixes and recipes that called for canned chickpeas resulted in a mushy chickpea cake that could indeed be awful, awful.

Falafel – the not awful, awful version

adapted from Joan Nathan’s My Favorite Falafel

makes enough for about 8 sandwiches

1 cup dried chickpeas (soaked for at least 8 hours. I started soaking them when I got up in the morning instead of overnight like the original recipe instructs)

1/2 large onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 cloves of garlic

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon baking powder

4-6 tablespoons fine-medium bulgur wheat (you can also use flour)

Vegetable oil for pan frying (Traditionally falafel is deep fried. I don’t do much deep frying so I pan fry them with good results)

To serve:

Chopped tomato

Diced onion

Chopped dill pickle

Harissa or Sriacha (if you like spice)

Tahini yogurt sauce (I make 1/2 a recipe)

Pita bread, warmed

1. Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight or over the course of the day, then drain.

2. Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, hot pepper, garlic, and cumin. Process until blended but not pureed. It should be the texture of tabouli.

3. Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 tablespoons of bulgur or flour, and pulse. You want to add enough bulgur or flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for 1 or more hours.

4. Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts and flatten a bit. Mine look like flying saucers.

5. Heat a scant 1/4 c. of oil in a large frying pan (I use cast iron) over medium high heat. If the flying saucer falls apart, add a little flour. Then fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Repeat until all the mix is used. Stuff half a pita with falafel balls, chopped tomatoes, onion, and dill pickle. Drizzle with yogurt tahini sauce and sriracha or harissa if you like some spice.

I served it with cole slaw.

Ratings:

Me:    A

Scott: A

Luca:  B

Alia:  A (She liked the pita and falafel, but the toppings and slaw, not so much.)