Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chickpea, Spinach, Feta, and Pepita Tacos

It looks like I'm falling into another Joe Yonan recipe theme - tacos! And why wouldn't I be? Tacos are undeniably fantastic. No matter your dietary restriction or preference, there's a taco out there for you, a peaceful culinary neutral zone where everyone from carnivores to gluten-free vegans can find something delicious to fill their belly.

My own taco preferences run quite the gamut as well. While you won't find me in the drive-through getting Doritos Locos tacos, I might be chowing down on anything from the quick-and-easy crunchy ground beef variety to handmade corn tortillas stuffed with long-cooked carnitas. This meal, however, lies somewhere in between. I took a shortcut and bought my tortillas, and though I didn't spend all day lovingly crafting my taco filling, I spent just enough time prepping and crafting this complex filling to still make it feel like a special treat.

The list of ingredients might seem a little long, but I promise this is just the right amount of complex. The basic combination of onions, beans, garlic, tomatoes, and greens form a healthy, filling, and delicious base, but it's the luxurious finishes - feta, avocado, and pepitas - that make these tacos so special. They're smoky, spicy, salty, fresh, and rich all at the same time, a wonderful variety of flavors and textures incorporated into each messy bite. You might end up with a few delicious juices dripping down your chin, but these tasty tacos are worth every bit of  inconvenience.

Chickpea, Spinach, Feta, and Pepita Tacos
adapted from Serve Yourself by Joe Yonan
serves 1

3 or 4 corn tortillas, preferably homemade
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground ancho chile
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small shallot lobe, thinly sliced or 1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 small tomato, chopped (or substitute 1/2 cup canned crush tomatoes in their juices or even salsa)
1/3 cup cooked chickpeas, preferably homemade, drained and rinsed
1 ounce (about 1 cup) lightly packed spinach, chard, or baby kale leaves, stacked, rolled, and thinly sliced
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 avocado, peeled, seeded, and sliced cut into chunks
1 ounce queso fresco or feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas; see note)
Hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Tapatio, for serving (optional)
Cilantro, for serving (optional)
1/2 lime, cut into wedges, for serving (optional)

1. Warm the tortillas and wrap them in aluminum foil to keep warm.

2. Pour the oil into a medium skillet over medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the ground ancho, stir to combine, and cook until it sizzles and becomes very fragrant about 30 seconds. Add the garlic and shallot and cook until the vegetables start to soften and slightly brown, 4 to 6 minutes.

3. Stir in the tomato and chickpeas and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato softens and starts to break down. Add the spinach and cook until the spinach wilts, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Lay the tortillas out on a plate and divide the chickpea-spinach mixture among them. Top with the avocado and feta and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds. Serve with your choice of hot sauce, cilantro, and lime wedges.

Note: To roast the pumpkin seeds, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees F for 5 to 7 minutes, until the seeds are very fragrant. Immediately transfer to a plate to stop the cooking and allow the seeds to cook completely. Alternatively, toast them in a skillet over medium heat, tossing frequently.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Roasted Salmon, Scallion, and Barley Bowl with Miso Sauce

Scallions appear in so many recipes as garnish, but it's rare to find a recipe that makes them a major player. This means that when I end up buying a bunch to use sparingly in a recipe like Spicy Thai Coconut Quinoa, the remnants either end up garnishing anything remotely appropriate or just going to waste. It's much more interesting to make them a principal player in an composed dish, and I fortunately didn't have to look too far for inspiration.

Like virtually every vegetable I've encountered, roasting brings out the best in scallions, cultivating a smoky sweetness that tempers their typically sharp edge. That same cooking technique creates a beautiful crust on the salmon, meaning you only need a few minutes to get both ingredients ready for the oven, and a couple quick check-ins during the cooking process. I chose barley for my grain base in this dish, but rice or even quinoa could work, though I particularly love the combination of chewy barley, tender fish, and soft and crispy scallion bits. Miso, though expensive and typically only available in fairly large containers, is a great umami-packed shortcut ingredient that introduces a ton of flavor to any dish with just a scant amount. The saltiness is balanced by the acidic vinegar, rich and toasty sesame oil, and sweet honey, happily uniting the barley, scallions, and salmon.

Healthy, delicious, and ridiculously quick and easy, this recipe is enough to make me buy scallions for more than a finishing touch.

Roasted Salmon, Scallion, and Barley Bowl with Miso Sauce
inspired by Saveur
serves 2

2 bunches scallions (about 1 pound), trimmed
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup pearled barley
Two (4- to 6-ounce) salmon fillets
1 tbsp. white or barley miso
2½ tsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1½ tsp. honey
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Sriracha or other hot sauce, for serving  (optional)

1. Prepare barley according to package directions. Set aside and keep warm.

2. Heat oven to 450°. Toss scallions with enough olive oil to coat, salt, and pepper and spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake, stirring once, until golden and wilted, about 15­ minutes, adding salmon partway through (see next step).  

3. Brush the salmon fillets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the salmon fillets about 5 minutes into the scallion roasting time, depending on the size of the salmon fillets, making sure to allow at least 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness. Roast until salmon is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

4. Transfer barley to a serving dish and top with scallions and salmon, flaking if desired. Whisk miso, vinegar, sesame oil, honey, and red pepper flakes, if using, in a bowl until smooth and drizzle over the top. Serve promptly, garnishing with hot sauce, if desired.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Spinach Enchiladas

Rick Bayless will forever be my go-to source for Mexican recipes, but I'm starting to think Joe Yonan has some pretty good ideas too. Mexican food doesn't have to be thoroughly authentic to be deeply satisfying, and I definitely have a fondness for both the Americanized and authentic versions. Just as gratifying as your favorite greasy Mexican joint, but without a requirement to be dressed for public dining, this meal is the perfect way to indulge your craving with a hint of authenticity and without settling for the Taco Bell drive-through.

I'm a sucker for anything in a tortilla, from whole wheat roasted veggie wraps, to fish tacos in homemade corn tortillas, to greasy quesadillas and everything in between. This recipe is a great balance of flavor, health, and convenience, using a collection of pantry staples and fresh vegetables to get this gorgeous meal into the oven in less than half an hour. Yogurt makes the quickly cooked vegetables wonderfully creamy with low caloric impact, tucked happily into tender corn tortillas with savory tomato sauce. Dipping the tortillas into the sauce before stuffing and rolling is a simple step that makes all the different in unifying the ingredients, though coating everything in a gentle layer of cheese certainly doesn't hurt. I can't imagine a Mexican dish without cilantro, but if your genetic misfortune means it leaves a soapy taste in your mouth, feel free to leave it out. This meal is plenty hearty as is, but beans, mushrooms, or chicken certainly wouldn't be unwelcome additions to the spinach.

Spinach Enchiladas
adapted from Eat Your Vegetables by Joe Yonan
serves 1

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot lobe, chopped, or 1/4 cup finely chopped white or yellow onion
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 small to medium jalapeno, finely chopped (leave seeds and ribs for extra heat)
3 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves, washed and dried (about 3 ounces)
2 tablespoons whole Greek-style yogurt, sour cream, or creme fraiche
2 (6-inch) corn tortillas
2/3 cup flavorful store-bought or homemade tomato sauce, thinned with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water
1/4 cup grated Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Pour the oil into a small skillet over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the shallot, garlic, and jalapeno and cook until soft but not browned. Add the spinach and stir-fry until it has just wilted, then scrape the mixture into a bowl and stir in the yogurt. Season with salt to taste.

3. Warm the tortillas to make them more pliable : either microwave them for a few seconds or heat them in a dry skillet over medium-high heat for about 10 seconds on each side, just enough to soften them. (If you have a gas stove, you can also put hem directly on the burner grate over the flame for a few seconds on each side.) Immediately wrap them in foil to keep them warm.

4. Pour the thinned-out tomato sauce into the skillet that you sauteed the shallow mixture in and bring it to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to love so that the sauce is barely simmering. Use tongs to dip the tortillas into the sauce one at a time, leaving them in for a just a few seconds; lift them out, letting the excess sauce drip off, and transfer them to a plate.

5. Spread about a quarter of the sauce on the bottom of a small casserole or individual gratin dish. Lay the softened tortillas on a work surface. Place half the spinach mixture in the center of each one, then roll the tortillas to form enchiladas and arrange them seam side down on top of the layer of sauce in the casserol dish. Spoon the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with the grated cheese.

6. Bake until the cheese has melted and the sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle the enchiladas with the cilantro and eat hot.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spicy Thai Coconut Quinoa

I've stumbled across this recipe several times over the past few years and it's a shame it has taken me so long to finally make it. Though the flurries of snow we got this week might indicate differently, it is in fact spring, and spring cleaning at my house includes the fridge, freezer, and pantry. Fortunately for me, this recipe's list of ingredients happened to be perfectly suited to helping me clean out the fridge, and I'm quite glad that happy accident brought me to these fantastic results.

I'm typically making big batches of grains to portion and freeze for an as-yet-unknown use, so they usually just get cooked in water with a pinch of salt. It's recipes like this that remind me how much better grains are when they're cooked in a flavorful liquid. Don't get me wrong, I like quinoa just fine as it is, but when it soaks up flavorful stock and rich coconut milk, it becomes worlds better. Even better, making the quinoa extra-creamy and luxurious makes the fresh and crunchy vegetables, crispy tofu, and spicy peanut sauce pop even more in contrast. All of the elements blend beautifully together, while still retaining their own distinct flavor and texture, creating a meal that is harmonious, but far from monotonous.

Although I eat a primarily plant-based diet, I'm far from an herbivore, and I realize that tofu isn't for everyone. I don't eat it as a substitute for meat, but as a protein all its own, though chicken would make a fine alternative here if tofu isn't your thing.

This recipe might have helped to clean out the fridge, but it also gave back to freezer, portioned into several work week lunches after feeding me so well for dinner. Save the garnishes for when you reheat your meal, but this comes out of the freezer nearly as perfect as when it went in.

Spicy Thai Coconut Quinoa
adapted from CHOW 
serves 4 to 6, heartily, or 6 to 8 for smaller appetites

For the dressing:
1 2/3 cups fresh cilantro (from about 1/2 bunch), long, thick stems removed
3/4 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
1/3 cup Sriracha hot sauce
2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest (from about 3 medium limes)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 3 medium limes)
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
2 medium garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

For the quinoa:
2 cups quinoa, any color or variety
1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/3 cups vegetable stock or low-sodium vegetable broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 (14- to 16-ounce) package firm tofu
2 medium carrots (about 8 ounces)
1 medium broccoli head (about 1 pound)
4 medium scallions
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Optional garnishes:
Coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Coarsely chopped roasted, unsalted peanuts
Thinly sliced scallions

For the dressing:
Place all of the ingredients in a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, about 1 minute; set aside. (Alternatively, use a high-quality store bought sauce. I like San-J Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce.)

For the quinoa:
1. Rinse the quinoa in a strainer under cold water until the water runs clear. Place in a large saucepan; add the coconut milk, vegetable broth, and measured salt; and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the white outer casings on the quinoa have popped, revealing translucent little beads, about 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, line a large plate with several layers of paper towels. Drain the tofu, cut it into large dice, and place it in a single layer on the paper-towel-lined plate; set aside. Trim the carrots and cut them into 1/8-inch-thick rounds; set aside. Trim the stem of the broccoli to 1/2 inch and cut the head into 1-inch florets; set aside. Thinly slice the white and light green parts of the scallions; set aside.

3. When the quinoa is ready, remove it to a large serving bowl and set aside. Wash the saucepan, fill it with water, and season generously with salt. Cover with a tightfitting lid and bring to a boil over high heat.

4. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the tofu and cook without stirring until the bottoms are golden brown, about 4 minutes. (While the tofu is cooking, line the plate you drained it on with fresh paper towels.) Flip and cook until the other sides are golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes more. Using a slotted spoon, remove to the paper-towel-lined plate and season with salt; set aside.

5. Add the carrots to the boiling water and cook until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove them to the bowl with the quinoa. Return the water to a boil, add the broccoli, and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain in a colander and place in the bowl with the quinoa and carrots.

(Alternatively, add a bit more oil, if necessary, and stir-fry the carrots and broccoli in the pan that the tofu was just cooked in.)

6. Add the cooked tofu, dressing, and scallions to the bowl and stir to combine. Garnish with additional cilantro, peanuts, and scallions before serving.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Dal Palak

Pretty much every Monday night it is both Meatless Monday and big batch cooking night at my house. Monday might not be the night most people use to be ambitious after work, but I like to use the first night of the week fill up the freezer and get some laundry done while dinner is bubbling away on the stove. Crossing off a long to-do list is my solution to the Monday doldrums, making what would be a drag of a day anyway move a lot more quickly and starting the week on a productive note.

For all the cuisines that make an appearance on my Monday night, I think Indian is the most common. All manner of vegetables and legumes, even many you wouldn't normally expect, take expertly to sweet, savory, and spicy Indian-inspired flavors. They're also ideal candidates for big batch Meatless Monday because they are often healthy, inexpensive, and freeze really well. This trifecta of qualities is what makes a recipe worth investing significant prep and cooking time, provided the outcome is still a delicious dish. And while neither I, or the author of the original, will claim this is the most authentic recipe, there's no denying that this fridge-clearing pile of veggies and melange of spices meet all those criteria perfectly.

For the dinner and lunch the day after, I ate this over brown rice with a dollop of yogurt and dash of hot sauce, but if I get some time to make naan, you can bet this will be one of the first companions it sees. Baked tofu, chicken, or even eggs would also perch perfectly atop this healthy plate if you're feeling especially ravenous.

Dal Palak
adapted from The Kitchn
makes about 8 cups

1 large onion, diced
2 packages (about 16 ounces) white button or baby bella mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 medium-sized red or white potatoes, cubed
1 inch fresh ginger, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons coriander
1 Tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes
10 ounce bunch of spinach or other hearty green (kale, chard, etc.) cleaned and cut into ribbons
1 cup lentils
3 cups of water or broth
1-2 Tablespoons salt
Chopped scallions, for topping (optional)
Plain yogurt or sour cream, for topping (optional)
Hot sauce, for topping (optional)

1. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, the mushrooms, and one teaspoon of salt, and cook until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms show spots of golden brown. Add the potatoes and another teaspoon of salt, and cook until the edges are just starting to turn translucent.

2. Clear a space in the middle of the pan and add the ginger, garlic, spices, and one more teaspoon of salt. Cook until the garlic is fragrant (30 seconds), and then stir the spices into the mix. Add the diced tomatoes in their juices, the spinach, and the lentils. Stir to combine everything and then top with three cups of water or broth.

3. Turn the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and let the soup simmer for about 45 minutes until the lentils and potatoes are cooked through. Taste the soup to adjust the seasonings and salt. Stir in half of the chopped scallions, reserving the rest to use as garnish.

4. Serve dal along with rice, naan, or chapatis.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Butternut Squash and Pea Curry

I'm a little hesitant to make any recipe with the word winter in name right now, but just because I've grown tired of winter weather doesn't mean I've lost love for everything bearing that moniker. Be it November or March, the sweet creaminess of butternut squash is a perfect mate for curry, and I won't deny myself one of my favorite veggies just because of its seasonal name. A squash by any other name would taste as sweet...

Mark Bittman specializes in bringing good food, in terms of flavor and nutrition, to the masses. I've been lucky enough to see him speak, and his palpable passion for sustainable, healthy, flavorful food combined with pragmatism is what I think has made his approach resonate with so many people. This recipe is a prime example of that enthusiastic, yet practical approach, tons of flavor and nutrition packed into an inexpensive meal that is prepared quickly and freezes well. There's no special twist or magic to this recipe, just a classic combination of ingredients with an undeniable affinity for each other, that I've made even more flexible. The hearty base squash or sweet potato base eagerly soaks up aromatic curry spices and rich coconut milk, happily punctuated with verdant peas or beans for a well-rounded collection of vegetal flavors.

Even in its simplest form, this is a flavorful vegan dinner, but I encourage you to dress it up to your heart's content. Plain yogurt, hot sauce, and fresh cilantro are my finishes of choice, but particularly ravenous diners may also want to include grilled chicken or tofu. Whether mixed into a bowl of rice, or messily scooped with naan or pita, you'll leave this meal feeling healthy and satisfied.

Butternut Squash and Pea Curry
serves 4

2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 pounds butternut or other winter squash, peeled and roughly chopped (or sweet potatoes, or a combination)
1/2 to 1 cup fresh or frozen peas (or green beans)
1 to 1 1/2 cups coconut milk, stock or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
Rice, naan, or pita, for serving (optional)
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for serving (optional)
Sour cream or yogurt, for serving (optional)
Hot sauce, for serving (optional)

1. Put the oil in a pot or deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the curry, ginger, and garlic and cook until the onion just starts to brown, about 2 minutes.

2. Add the squash and coconut milk and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. Bring to a boil, cover, and turn the heat down to low. Cook, stirring periodically, until the squash is just tender, about 20 minutes, checking periodically to make sure there is adequate liquid; if the squash is done and there is still a lot of liquid, remove the lid and turn the heat to medium-high until it’s thicker than stew. Add frozen peas and cook until warmed through. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve hot or warm over rice or naan with choice of garnishes.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fall Vegetable Soup with White Beans

While I can't say I'm enjoying these unseasonably cold temperatures, at least this enduring grip of winter means a prolonging of soup weather. I'm working hard to clear the freezer of all the soups and stews and other stick-to-your-bones fare, and these rescued meals are keeping me cozy and fed. The final portion of Stewed Cauliflower, Butternut Squash, and Tomatoes was part of my end-of-winter purge, appropriately transforming into this belly-filling bowl of soup.

The time invested prepping and slowly cooking those hearty vegetables is again clearly returned in this recipe with many elements of intense flavor come together quickly. The stewed vegetables bring a perfect balance of deep flavor and vinegary pop and the hearty helping of beans making it a satisfying meal. A sprinkling of croutons across the top start as a toasty, crispy bits, slowly disintegrating as they soak up the broth and meld into each thick, rich bite. A scant sprinkling of good Parmesan across the top creates a deep savoriness, gingerly bringing the perfect amount of umami to this vegetarian meal. (For the carnivores and hedonists out there, a bit of crumbled bacon would not be unwelcome as well.)

I've almost at the end of my rope when it comes to cold weather eating, but with such a meager time investment, I was absolutely delighted to chow down on this collection of diverse flavors - the perfect antidote to end-of-winter dinner fatigue.

Fall Vegetable Soup with White Beans
adapted from Serve Yourself by Joe Yonan
serves 1

1 slice sourdough or rustic whole grain bread or roll, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock or water, plus more if needed
1/2 cup cooked white beans, preferably homemade, drained and rinsed
Leaves from 3 or 4 sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Put the bread cubes on a small baking sheet, drizzle with the oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Arrange in a single layer and toast in the oven for 5 to 6 minutes, until very crisp and golden brown, watching closely to avoid burning them. Use tongs to turn over the bread cubes and toast for another 5 to 6 minutes to create evenly browned croutons. Remove from the oven.

3. Combine the stewed vegetables and stock in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until hot, about 5 minutes.

4. Add the white beans and cook for a few minutes until heated through. Add more water if you want a thinner texture. Stir in the thyme. Taste and add salt and pepper, if desired.

5. Pour the soup into a bowl, add the croutons, sprinkle with the cheese, and eat.