03 January 2014

Mushroom, Lentil, and Chestnut Ragù

A ragu is meant to be a little bit sauce-like, but mine was more solid. This is my version of the Myra Kornfeld recipe in my favorite cookbook, the Voluptuous Vegan. I bought my copy about 10 years ago and have slowly worked my way through ever since, triumph by delectable triumph. Allow yourself a generous 3 to 4 hours. It tastes like Thanksgiving! All the picky eaters in my family loved it. Serves 8 hearty eaters alongside the broccoli rabe polenta--which you could make a few days before because it keeps well--of the previous post.

1 Cup whole roasted chestnuts from a jar
1 1/2 Cups French lentils (they keep their shape, unlike some lentils I could mention!)
7-8 sprigs fresh rosemary
7-8 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
12 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms
2 large portabello mushrooms
6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tablespoons shoyu or gluten-free soy sauce
2 onions, diced (2 Cups)
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 celery stalks, cut into large pieces on the diagonal
salt and freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 large lemon

  1. Cover lentils with 8 Cups water in a pot. Add a bouquet garni (tied in cheesecloth) of 6 sprigs rosemary, 6 sprigs thyme, and 2 bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered, about 30 minutes or until lentils are soft. Drain liquid, remove bouquet garni, and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to  375 degrees. Clean mushrooms. Remove stems. Cut the mushrooms into large chunks. Toss in a bowl with 4 Tablespoons olive oil and all of the soy sauce. Spread in a shallow baking pan and roast 30 minutes. Set aside.
  3. In a very large saucepan, heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Add onions, garlic, and celery and saute about 10 minutes until softened. Salt it to taste.
  4. Add the lentils to the onion mixture. Salt to taste. Add the mushrooms. Add the chestnuts, breaking them up by hand. Add about 1 Cup water. Simmer to marry the flavors and add any salt or pepper to taste. Turn off the heat.
  5. Mince a teaspoon of rosemary, one teaspoon of thyme, and add it to the mixture along with the lemon juice. Serve immediately while wearing well-polished boots. 

Three Minute Polenta

For Snowed-In Blizzard Day, I made an extremely fancy dish from my favorite cookbook, The Voluptuous Vegan by Myra Kornfeld.  The meal included a carbohydrate base of baked polenta triangles with broccoli rabe. Kornfeld suggested reducing the usually burdensome cooking time by mixing the stone-ground polenta with quick-cooking corn grits. She wrote that it should take 15 to 20 minutes of gentle bubbling for the dish to thicken into genuine polenta. For some reason, when I stirred 1 Cup each of the polenta and grits into the 6 cups of salted and oiled boiling water, they instantly became polenta. It took me a minute or two of panicked water-adding before I realized it had happened.

But Sarah, you ask skeptically, was this "instant" polenta anything like the real deal? Yes, dear reader. Exactly like. I stirred in the blanched and chopped broccoli rabe, let the polenta cool and harden, had my handy assistant carve it into triangles, brushed it with oil, and baked it for 40 minutes at 375 degrees into perfectly delicious food. Since I don't know what I did, I'd be curious to hear if anyone replicates this "method."

14 October 2013

Tortilla Adventure and Huevos Americanos

You have my deepest apologies for the ridiculously long absence. Unfortunately for my goofy cooking adventures, my career seems to be taking off, which means too much work, writing work. That wouldn't be such a problem if Goofy Toddler weren't also taking off, all the time, in every direction at rocket ship speed, and then keeping me awake half the night screaming, "nurse the OTHER boob! nurse the OTHER boob!"  How many times do I need to explain there are only two? You might perceive why my output has suffered.

Anyway, on to my most recent tortilla adventures! I have discovered that I live quite close to a tortilleria y panaderia (a tortilla and bread bakery).  The first time I waltzed in, I made a brief tour of the bakery, shelves overflowing with breads and pastries topped with candy-colored frosting. I didn't see any tortillas, though. I sashayed up to the counter and asked the woman behind it, Donde esta los tortillas? (I used my favorite sixth-grade Spanish sentence, Donde esta el banyo? then hacked in "tortillas," and guessed the article los was plural because of Los Angeles.)  The woman replied to me, in what I assumed was Spanish, one of those pesky phrases not covered in sixth grade. I looked at her blankly and gestured around the store, repeating, "Where are the tortillas?" The woman looked at me, resignation in her weary gaze, then went over to an unmarked cooler next to the tortilla-making-machine and took out some tortillas. She weighed them and told me how much they cost. I said, Muchas gracias, and then she moved on to a literate customer. 

The tortillas were still warm!  Joy coursed through my veins. I gave some to Goofy Toddler, who chewed one up and asked for another. After a week or so, the tortillas had vanished into numerous digestive systems. I returned to the tortilleria, armed with the knowledge of where the tortillas are.

I walked up to the counter and said to a (different) woman behind it, "Tortillas, por favor." With my hand I indicated how large the stack of tortillas should be. I felt quite clever at my language work-around. The woman, bored, replied in English, "Two pounds?"  I flushed. "Yes," I muttered. "Two pounds." I had no idea how high a stack of tortillas two pounds makes. Two pounds of tortillas turn out to be only so high, and they last most of a week at our house. 

I invented this recipe last week using our fresh tortilleria tortillas. George really loves this recipe, but I have to admit it's kind of a trailer park/Tex-Mex mash-up.  Don't serve it to your rich relations, is all I'm saying.

Huevos Americanos

Serves 2 to 4 people

You will need:
 a medium small fry pan with a lid
a slotted spoon
4 eggs
1 15 ounce can Old El Paso enchilada verde sauce, mild or medium
OR enchilada/ salsa of your choice
4 medium-size corn tortillas
4 slices American cheese

  1. Pour can of enchilada sauce into fry pan. Heat gently until bubbling.
  2. Carefully crack 4 eggs into the bubbling sauce, keeping them separate from each other. Cover.
  3. Meanwhile, heat up tortillas in a toaster oven or on a dry fry pan, melting one slice of cheese on each tortilla,
  4. When the egg yolks have filmed over and no longer jiggle, use a slotted spoon to scoop out each egg and place it on a single cheesed-up tortilla. Serve immediately with a friendly jiggle of your own.

23 June 2013

Spring Sabzi, Persian Greens with Black-eyed Peas

In Farsi, the word "sabzi" means green and can refer to herbs or vegetables.  This version of Sabzi is hardly the last word on the matter and—although easy and quite delicious—is a far cry from the top-of-the-line meals I enjoyed at the home of my Persian friend Roshanak. Roshanak loves to cook together several kinds of greens and herbs into a dense stew, or ash (AWSH). Then her family spoons it over rice and mixes this delicious concoction with homemade yogurt. Although I haven't visited Roshanak in years, this Sabzi's combination of cooked greens, good creamy yogurt, and rice reminds me strongly of all the amazing meals she so graciously served me. The black-eyed peas are the real surprise here: their light freshness adds to the feeling of Spring provided by the mixture of leeks, parsley, spinach, and lemon juice.  And the unexpected sprinkling of cinnamon works magic, although I have no idea why it belongs in this dish!

I think I got a version of this recipe from Vegetarian Times, but I'm not sure.

Serve this dish with a side of refreshing tropical fruit like pineapple or mango, spritzed with lime juice.

Spring Sabzi

about 1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped and washed in several changes of water
12 to 16 ounces fresh spinach
1/4 Cup fresh parsley, chopped
4 scallions (white and light green parts), sliced
2 16-ounce cans black-eyed peas, rinsed
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juices
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
several gratings of fresh nutmeg

  1. In an extra-large skillet or soup pot, heat oil. Add leeks and cook until soft, roughly eight minutes.
  2. Add spinach, parsley, scallions, and 1/4 Cup water. Cook until spinach wilts.
  3. Stir in the black-eyed peas, lemon juice, cinnamon and nutmeg. Heat 5 minutes until through. 
Serve over rice and offer people good quality yogurt or wedges of lemon.

16 May 2013

Mexican Vegetarian: Breakfast of Tortillas, Beans, Rice, and Eggs or Avocado

My neighbor Alicia from Mexico kindly invited me over for breakfast twice this week. It turns out that whenever she has time to make breakfast, it's naturally vegetarian (but not vegan). Alicia assured me that if I went to a Mexican restaurant for breakfast, they would always serve the same thing that she makes herself: eggs, beans, and rice with salsa spooned generously over everything and a pile of crispy tortillas for scooping. This sort of breakfast can keep you going all day, she told me, unlike cereal or pancakes. In my experience, that's true. If you don't like to eat eggs, slices of fresh avocado make a perfect—and, Alicia would agree—authentically Mexican substitute.

Alicia's Tortillas:
Alicia uses either corn (gluten-free) or flour tortillas and leaves them on the fry pan until they get crispy and bumpily shaped. Then she uses them to scoop the beans, eggs, or rice into her mouth. No forks necessary! she told me happily.

Alicia's Beans:
Alicia cooks dry pinto beans in water with salt. First she covers them with water in the morning. Then when she returns in the afternoon she boils them until soft. She drains all but a little water, cooks them in a little oil in a fry pan and smashes them with a hand-held potato masher. Sometimes she adds a little bit of dried Mexican oregano. At serving time she sometimes tops the reheated beans with grated queso fresco, a soft white Mexican cheese.

Alicia's Rice:
First toast the dry rice toasted with a little oil,  then boil it until soft in water and a bit of bouillon or stock. Add corn kernels at the end.

Alicia's Salsa:
Cook 10 or more peeled and rinsed tomatillos in boiling water until they change color and soften. Drain. Puree them with a small handful of dried chilies de arbol (tiny red chilies) and a touch of salt. You can soak the chilies in water for an hour to soften them, first, if it makes them easier to puree. Alicia's mother taught her to make salsa this way. It can be extraordinarily spicy and flavorful.

Alicia's Eggs:
She sautées together diced mushrooms, tomatoes, and white onion, and possibly a little jalapeño pepper. Then she adds some beaten eggs and makes either scrambled eggs or an omelette.

It seems like a lot of work for breakfast, but the truth is that the beans, rice, and salsa are usually left over from dinner the night before, and the tortillas are store-bought. Alicia can serve a steaming hot breakfast in about 15 minutes.

22 April 2013

Mexican Vegetarian (also Gluten-Free): Enchiladas, Tamales, Empanadas, Chile Rellenos

I hope the title didn't mislead you; I don't have recipes for the above foods. What I do have is a neighbor, Laura, from Mexico who barely speaks any English and who cooks to order from her home. Her food is quite inexpensive so I've been experimenting almost weekly with vegetarian requests from her (and learning Spanish food words). This post will report on some vegetarian possibilities for Mexican-style home cooking in the States, and you can use the post to create your own recipes.

The Goofy Family has the double limitation that we are eating gluten-free this month for medical reasons. We aren't concerned about the minute level of gluten contamination that causes problems for people with celiac disease, which is why we can eat gluten-free from my neighbor. Otherwise, with my language abilities that would be out of the question.

Spinach Enchiladas

Spinach is espinacas in Spanish and the Mexican people in my neighborhood exhibit a lot of familiarity with it, even though my Mexican-American neighbor pretty much never cooks with it or with any dark leafy green. I brought Laura an enormous bag of fresh adult spinach still attached to the crown and asked her for a batch (hornadas) of enchiladas, which turned out to be a dozen medium-sized enchiladas. I think she sautéed the spinach with generous amounts of garlic and onion, then rolled the spinach mixture tightly into warmed-until-soft corn tortillas. She piled the enchiladas up in two layers on a platter, poured a mild sauce over them, sprinkled on grated queso fresco (a mild white fresh Mexican cheese), and topped everything with a beautiful chopped salad of lettuce, tomato, radishes and avocados. They looked spectacular. She gave me a side of a very spicy salsa verde (tomatillo-based).  Everyone loved the combination of sauce-soaked corn tortillas, crunchy vegetables, chewy succulent spinach, and spicy fruity salsa. The key is to stuff a lot of spinach into each tortilla so that it makes a satisfying bite. Also, you need to add the sauce last-minute so that the enchiladas don't fall apart.

Bean-and-Cheese or Poblano-Cheese Tamales

Katharina asked me if tamales are a very fancy food. I laughed and told her that tamales are the equivalent of peasant food. But it's true that tamales look quite appealing in their fragrant banana leaf packages. I asked Laura for a dozen cheese tamales, half with beans (frijoles) and half with strips of roasted poblano peppers (rajas). The tamales innards (the part that you eat), is soft masa, or corn meal, mixed with your specified ingredients. Laura packed the innards into fresh banana leaves and then steamed the tamales until the masa cooked. For the frijoles tamales, she made runny refried beans that mixed in an appealingly gooey way with the queso fresco.  The rajas tamales lacked the kid-friendly texture of the frijoles tamales but George and I appreciated the deep complexity of the roasted poblano. Because the tamales had such a mild flavor, Sally though they needed some salsa or hot sauce. George and I enjoyed them without.

Kale or Spinach Empanadas

l had on my hands an enormous bag of baby kale, which I washed and brought over to Laura. She didn't know the Spanish name for kale but she easily recognized it and knew how to cook it. I asked for a batch (a dozen) of kale-and-garlic (ajo) empanadas, and Laura nodded and mentioned tomatoes, onions, and a bunch of other Spanish-language flavorings (which I didn't understand) that she would add as a matter of course. In my cookbooks I had read a few recipes for empanadas and was concerned that she would put wheat flour (harina) in but she shook her head and said she only makes empanadas with masa.  Laura called empanadas "The Mexican quesadilla," which I found hilarious. Empanadas are stuffed crescents of dough; they have the shape of a paper plate or a pie crust folded in half. Laura deep-fried the empanadas in a large fry-pan and gave them to me very hot and fresh. The kale empanadas—pairing succulent chewy savory greens with bright corn flavor—were delicious,  but they didn't contain very much filling. I wondered if the empanadas were more difficult to maneuver around cooked greens without the flexibility of wheat flour in the dough. At any rate, they tasted wonderful both hot and cold but we all found the oiliness a little overwhelming. I know that there are baked version of empanadas which I would experiment with next time.

Chile Rellenos

We ordered this classic dish a few days before the gluten-free diet began, and the chile rellenos came in a fried batter, which contained wheat flour. Laura stuffed full poblano chiles with big blocks of queso fresco which somehow did not even get warm, let alone melt. Then she dipped the peppers in a batter and deep-fried them in a large fry pan. She poured a delicious thin sauce over the peppers that made what might have been a somewhat unsatisfying recipe into a pretty captivating meal. The good thing about making your own chile rellenos is that it is always, in my experience, extremely easy to peel off the fried batter. So if you're gluten-free (not celiac, obviously) or dieting, you can deep-fry your peppers, pull off the oily exterior, pour a warm delicious sauce over the whole thing, and dig right in.

I hope this post inspires you to try a little Mexican vegetarian cooking at home!

15 March 2013

Improvement on Green Enchiladas

You know what's wayyy better than those Green Enchiladas? This: Omit the sauce. Spoon a hefty dollop of Mexican crema onto the middle of a cooked tortilla, add the filling (or even some steamed broccoli, I'm serious!), sprinkle with your favorite cheese, fold into taco-shape, and gently maneuver food into orifice. Repeat.

And repeat.

And repeat.

Mmmmmm.... So luxurious.

11 March 2013

Mexican Vegetarian: Green Enchiladas

The Goofy Family is going gluten-free for two months to test for intolerance, so pretty much everything I'm posting for a while will be gluten-free. This coincides nicely with Passover, although the (Ashkenazi) Passover diet is much stricter. Let's compare gluten-free with Passover.


Nothing that contains wheat, rye, or barley.  Most oats are quite contaminated.

(Ashkenazi) Passover:

Nothing that contains wheat (except matzah). Nothing that contains rye, barley, spelt, or oats. No corn, millet, and sometimes rice. No legumes including beans, soybeans, lentils, and peanuts. Or anything made from any of those things.

So these enchiladas I just made definitely fit the gluten-free category, but they fail in the Passover category. To make these Kosher for Passover, you need to ditch the corn tortillas and serve the filling over rice (if you're cool with that) or quinoa, pouring the sauce on as a final touch. Plus, the sauce can only contain kosher for Passover ingredients.

I really "riffed" on this recipe, which is my first by Rick Bayless, famous famous cook of Mexican cuisine. I chose all the riffs because I am lazy to my core. The recipe that resulted certainly had its delicious components: a fruity and tangy sauce, the smell of fresh corn, and the satisfying chew of gently cooked spinach and mushrooms. Its Achilles heel was the texture of the tortillas, which I did not spray and bake in the oven until pliable like Bayless suggested. Instead I over-toasted them or under-microwaved them. Next time I'll probably cook them in oil in a huge fry pan so I can keep a close eye on their pliability. But the oven is definitely overkill in my opinion.

Green Enchiladas

The filling:

8 ounces button mushrooms, washed, stemmed and sliced
10 ounces fresh adult spinach, washed, stemmed and chopped
1 red onion, thinly sliced

The sauce:

1 16 ounce jar (2 Cups) of tomatillo salsa
1 Cup No-chicken or other vegetarian broth
3 Tablespoons crema or sour cream or half n' half

12 fresh corn tortillas

Optional: grated queso fresco


  1. Heat the salsa in a pot for 7 minutes. Add broth and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in crema. Cover and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, saute mushrooms in a large frypan on medium high heat until browned. Add onions and saute a few more minutes until softened and translucent. Add 1/4 Cup water and then as much spinach as you can fit into the frypan at a time until all 10 ounces are wilted.
  3. Cook the tortillas until pliable. You might need to use oil or a frying pan or the oven or whatever you need.
  4. Dip each tortilla in the sauce. Lay it on a plate. Add 2 Tablespoons of filling. Add the cheese. Roll up seam side down. Ladle more sauce over the top of each tortilla. 
  5. Serve 3 enchiladas on each plate. Do not shout "Olé!"

08 March 2013

Kimchi Fried Rice

I thought this kimchi fried rice would be exciting and invigorating. Instead I felt comforted and warmed. The spiciness increases gradually from the back of your mouth, but the rice keeps the heat from overwhelming your palate.

Kimchi Fried Rice

adapted from one of my favorite recipe authors on Serious Eats, Nick Kindelsperger

Serves 4

vegetable oil
4 Cups kimchi, chopped into bite-sized bits (DON'T TOUCH IT for crissakes)
4 Cups white rice, preferably a day old
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon go chu jang, Korean red pepper paste
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
4 eggs

  1. Heat up a little oil in a fry pan over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the kimchi. 
  2. Once the kimchi is warm, in about 2 minutes, add butter and go chu jang. Stir until completely coating the kimchi. 
  3. Add the rice, breaking up clumps, and stir until evenly distributed through the kimchi.
  4. Pour sesame oil over the rice and stir again. 
  5. Allow the bottom of the rice-kimchi mixture to develop a little crust.
  6. Take out the mixture and divide among 4 bowls. Cover with plates to keep it hot.
  7. Turn down the heat in the frypan, add some more oil, and scrape out bits of leftover rice.
  8. Break 4 eggs into the pan. Cook slowly. When the egg is still a little oozy, turn off the heat. Put one egg on top of each bowl of kimchi rice. Serve at once.

04 March 2013

Bread Pudding Casserole

This casserole took me a whopping 4 hours to make!

…Are you still here?

Even without careful rationing the casserole fed me through three-and-half days of lunches and dinners, so it ended up saving me about 2 hours.  The picky Goofy Baby loved it, I loved it, and its gorgeousness warmed my hungry heart.  The bon appétit site from which I adapted the recipe tried to market this recipe as a vegetarian Thanksgiving centerpiece, but I don't think so. I would never serve a cheesy dish at Thanksgiving, let alone as the centerpiece. I know some families have a broccoli and cheese casserole tradition on that day, but not as a turkey substitute!

The vegetable ingredients stay in season for months, so you can enjoy this from November through March or even April.

* This dish adapts really well to the gluten-free diet because the baguette I used had to be toasted until it was completely crisp. GF bread has no trouble getting crisp. I think you could use toasted gluten-free bread or even large, unseasoned GF croutons as a substitute (The brand Ener-G makes some). Just be careful to use gluten-free alcohol.

Butternut Squash and Kale Bread Pudding

2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 inch cubes
olive oil
1 baguette, * sliced into 1 inch pieces and toasted until crisp.
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
7 large eggs
1 pint cream
6 tablespoons dry white wine, sake, or Chinese Shao xing wine
4 large shallots, chopped
1 pound kale, ribs removed, coarsely chopped or torn into small pieces
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Toss cubed squash with 1 Tablespoon of oil. Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake 20 to 25 minutes, until tender.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs. Whisk in cream, wine, and kosher salt. Add baguette pieces. Mix gently together and allow to sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. In a large pot, heat 2 Tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add shallots. Sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add kale. Cover and cook 2 to 7 minutes until kale has wilted a little but is still bright green.
  4. Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF. Butter a 9x13 baking dish.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer half of the bread from the egg mixture to the baking dish. Arrange it to cover most of the dish.
  6. Spoon half of the kale-shallot mix over the bread.
  7. Spoon half of the squash cubes over the kale.
  8. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the squash cubes.
  9. Repeat steps 5 through 8.
  10. Pour remaining egg mixture over the bread pudding.
  11. Cover the bread pudding with foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake uncovered 20 minutes.
  12. Cool and serve.
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