Radish Salsa

I mentioned before that Kyle has been on a radish kick lately. I don’t know what got into him, but he has been all about the radishes for the last few weeks. He never used to touch them, until about a year ago when I threw some diced radishes on top of Cuban black beans and rice. Then he was hooked. Ever since he saw them at the farmers’ market 4 weeks ago, he has asked for them every week. I am running out of ideas for preparation, which can only mean one thing in my house. Desperation breeds creativity in the vegology kitchen. Having tossed them in salads and sandwiches for the last few weeks, I am ready to move on to something more challenging.

Not only do these root vegetables add color to the plate, but they also pack a good dose of nutrition for your body. Radishes are considered by many to be a superfood due to their high concentration of nutrients relative to calories. Radishes contain Vitamin C, zinc, folic acid, B-complex vitamins, and anthocyanins. They contain nutrients that help rebuild tissues and blood vessels, they have cancer-fighting properties and they can help decrease inflammation. Radishes are a natural diuretic, which can aid in fighting certain infections. They also have a good amount of fiber, which can improve digestion. Who could deny a loved one his radishes, after finding out how great they are for his health?

While brainstorming this weekend, I thought about our first positive experience with radishes. Diced and served fresh over spicy black beans and tender rice, radishes were a refreshing component of the meal. When paired with tender, sweet baby greens, radishes offer a pleasantly bitter complement to a salad that would otherwise be lacking a much needed edge. However, when paired with soft and spicy beans, the crisp radish seems milder in flavor, and it adds a refreshing crunch to the dish. Having recently had great success with black bean tacos and mango salsa, I decided to give the spring radish a new stage on which to shine. A corn tortilla, topped with spicy black beans and fresh mango with tiny flecks of minced jalapeño thrown in for good measure.

The mango isn’t local, but who could resist these tender juicy mangoes that are currently in season in Chiapas, Mexico? Perhaps a locavore purist could, but when I saw this new-to-me variety in the grocery store, I had to give it a try. The Champagne mango is very tender, deliciously fleshy, and super sweet. It’s basically my spirit animal, if spirit animals could actually be fruits. I read that these Mexican mangoes are more closely related to Indian mangoes than the more popular Tommy Atkins mango. I bet these would be a good weapon to have in your arsenal if you planned on tackling a mango chutney.

We added a little cheese to our tacos, but you could leave it out to make them vegan. We enjoyed these on a warm night on our back porch. The sounds of kids playing and dogs barking in the distance mingled with the natural chorus of wildlife in the woods right behind our house. The sun went down as we laughed and talked and wiped mango juice from our chins, as diced radish and cucumbers and tender black beans tumbled out of their soft taco shells and littered our plates. We had the awe-inspiring experience of watching a baby blue jay learn how to fly as we dined. We saw many crash landings and a few promising vertical flutters, before its parents swooped in at dusk and (I assume) vowed to try again tomorrow. We experienced the best of spring in one night during that meal, and I was really thankful that Kyle had convinced me (again) to pick up some radishes at the market. What is this season for, if not for trying new things?

Radish Salsa

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup diced radish
  • 1/2 cup peeled, diced cucumber
  • 2 large scallions (or 3-4 small), thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper (less if you can’t take the heat)
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Stir to mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Store covered in refrigerator and serve cold.
  3. Serve with chips, on black bean tacos, or on a salad or sandwich.
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Spicy Cauliflower Tacos with Sunchoke Hash

I recently discovered sunchokes in the produce section of Ellwood Thompson’s on Manager’s Special, which meant they were half off. I have wanted to experiment with sunchokes for awhile, but they are a little expensive to risk screwing up. But at 50% the normal price, you would have bought them too, right?

Their name sounds like artichokes, they look like ginger, but they taste like potatoes. Except they taste better than potatoes, nutty and a little sweet, like Yukon Golds with personality. Not sweet like sweet potatoes, just a little sweet. This may sound a little confusing, but try to stay with me. It gets better but only after it gets a little worse.

Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, are native to North America, not Jerusalem. Also confusing, I know. They are related to the sunflower plant, and the edible part of the sunchoke is the knobby little tuber that grows below the flowering plant. So that clears up the name a little. But why the misleading alias “Jerusalem Artichoke?”. I suppose aliases, by nature, are misleading. . . but that is neither here nor there. There are a few different theories out there, but this one is my favorite. In Spanish, the word for sunflower is girasol. In Italian, girasole. See where this is going yet? Presumably, Italian settlers in North American called the plant “girasole,” a name which, like a lot of words with confusing etymologies, was butchered over time and ended up “Jerusalem.”

Who knows how? Not me. I was more interested in the taste anyhow.

I found a lot of recipes for sunchokes in soups and purees online, and several people recommended that you simply roast the sunchokes. This is one of my favorite ways to prepare any new vegetable, as roasting has never failed me in the past. However I had a new cast iron skillet that I was obsessed with so I wanted desperately to saute them. In others’ recipes they were paired with cauliflower a lot, for some unknown reason, so I decided to go with it. And that is how I came up with spicy cauliflower tacos with sunchoke hash.

Did you hear me?

A new vegan taco “meat”!

And nutty, earthy, spicy-sweet sunchoke hash!

The tacos worked. So much that I will probably pay full price for the sunchokes next time. And so much that I want to share the recipe with you. If you don’t eat meat (or even if you do), I think you should have this cauliflower taco “meat” in your repertoire.

I simply diced the sunchokes and threw them in the skillet with some oil and diced peppers and onions over medium heat. I stirred occasionally and the skillet did the rest. Then into tortillas they go, with cauliflower taco “meat,” shredded cheese, and a dollop of sour cream. For vegan tacos, use vegan cheese and tofutti sour cream, or top with tomato salsa and mashed avocado with lime.

Spicy Vegan Cauliflower Taco “Meat”

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 pinches ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Break the cauliflower into pieces and either grate into a large bowl or crumble with your fingers for a more rustic feel. Break or grate into small crumbles.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  3. Add cauliflower crumbles to skillet and, while stirring constantly, saute until golden brown.
  4. Add chili powder to the skillet and stir to combine. Cook for one minute then add remaining spices and tomato paste. Stir to combine, turn heat to low-medium and cover. Cook for a few more minutes, until cauliflower is tender and heated throughout.

Lighten up a Classic Comfort Food: Mexi Mac & Cheese

Sometimes you get a craving for comfort food. You know what kind of food I am talking about – cheesy, creamy, fluffy, delicious, made-with-love-and-an-extra-helping-of-butter comfort food. Everyone has a different food that is the culinary equivalent of a warm embrace. Mine is cheesy mashed potatoes. Yours might be macaroni and cheese, or pork BBQ, or fried pickles. Whatever your comfort food is, it is probably not on the light side. These dishes tend to be indulgences that should be enjoyed in moderation. But I want to have them all the time! So the next best thing to a traditional comfort food is one that has been lightened up a bit so you don’t have to feel so guilty for eating the leftovers a few nights in a row.

For this lightened up version of Mac & Cheese, I used a recipe from Eating Well as  the base, then put my own spin on it. I like to call it Mexi Mac. Not to be confused with Sexy Sax, which is a completely different thing (NSFW?). I loved the addition of cottage cheese. The tart flavor played well with the sweet corn and mild heat of the green chilies. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!

Mexi Mac & Cheese (serves 4-6 as an entree and 6-8 as a side dish)

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 3/4 cups low-fat milk, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup low-fat small curd cottage cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups corn, canned (and drained) or frozen (and thawed)
  • 1 can ( 4 ounces) chopped green chilies
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) whole wheat elbow macaroni
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preparation:

  1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat a 2 quart or 3 quart baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl.
  3. Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, corn, and chilies.
  5. Cook pasta for 4-5 minutes, or until not quite tender (it will continue to cook during baking). Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well.
  6. Add dry mustard, salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. Transfer to baking dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.
  7. Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Have you ever made over a comfort food to be healthier? Now is a good time to do it, while you are sticking to your New Year Resolutions. I think a bowl of this could keep you from falling off the wagon for at least a few days. 😉

How to Fire Roast on a Gas Stove

Guess what? Tacos are better with fire roasted poblanos.

And they’re even better when you’ve roasted the peppers yourself! DIY fire roasting can be achieved with a broiler or a gas stove. I recently learned how to do this over a gas stove, and it is really easy and fun. Maybe it is my lifetime love of science and playing with Bunsen burners, or maybe it is my fascination with new cooking techniques, but I’ve got a fever. And the only prescription is more fire roasting.

First, a disclaimer, which has nothing to do with fire safety. It’s my stove. I rent an apartment in a really old building (89 years old to be exact) and the kitchen has really old appliances. My stove is ugly, with indelible burn marks everywhere. No amount of Method cleaner, degreasing stovetop cleaner, or Bar Keeper’s Friend can clean this baby up. So we deal with it, and now you will too. Because here it is in all its glory.

Aging ungracefully

The first step to fire roasting your peppers is slicing them in half, deseeding them, and placing them directly on the burner of your gas stove. Turn the heat up to high and hold the pepper with fire-proof tongs. Or non-fire-proof tongs (but be careful). Just make sure your tongs can withstand the heat and they won’t melt everywhere. Grilling tools are ideal.

The skin will start to get brown and, in some spots, black and bubbly. Turn the pepper periodically so that it gets charred evenly over the flame, for about 8 minutes. When the skin is brown and blistering all over (yum!) remove the pepper from the flame and repeat the process for all remaining peppers. If you get really good at this, you can have multiple burners going at once.

Next, place your peppers in a large plastic bag with a zipper seal.

This will steam the hot peppers and make it easier to remove the skin. After 5 minutes, remove them from the bag and the skin should peel right off. From here you can chop, slice, dice or stuff them for your favorite recipe.

One option is to keep the burners fired up to warm some tortillas. Corn tortillas are fantastic when heated over an open flame.

It takes just a minute or two per side to get fresh corn tortillas warm and slightly charred. I’m telling you, now that I know how to do it I dream about what I can fire roast next! This is how I made the roasted poblano and spicy black bean tacos for the vegetarian beer dinner that I created earlier this month.

1. Poblanos: First, fire roast your poblano peppers using the method described above, and slice the peppers into strips. See all the little charred bits? Delicioso.

2. Black Beans, Chili powder, Cumin: Next, add 1 Tbsp oil to a saucepan over low-medium heat and add black beans (canned or dry and soaked). Stir for two minutes, then add chili powder and cumin to the pot. The amount depends on your personal preference. Cook for about 5 minutes just until the beans start to get pasty and then take them off the heat.

3. Sour cream, Lime, Cilantro: Then add 1 Tbsp lime juice and a palmful of chopped fresh cilantro to 1/2 cup of sour cream. Stir to combine.

4. Tortillas: Warm some corn tortillas over the flame on a gas stove, or in the microwave between 2 damp paper towels for 30 seconds, or wrapped in foil in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.

5. Additional Toppings: I shredded some cheddar cheese and pulled the Chipotle Tabasco out of the refrigerator. Other toppings ideas include: steamed corn, pico de gallo, roasted diced potatoes, or sriracha sauce.

6. Assembly: Fill the warm corn tortillas with beans, peppers, and additional toppings, and top with a dollop of the cilantro lime sour cream, for a super roasted Mexico-inspired dinner.

Once you try this technique, you might get hooked. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

MexiKali Wraps

One thing I love to eat when the weather warms up is Mexican food. The weekly taco night is a must in the summer, and Kyle and I usually enjoy tacos, burritos, or burrito bowls outside with a cold beer. Sometimes I struggle to get a serving of vegetables in for this once-a-week meal. I started adding steamed broccoli or sauteed zucchini to our burritos and they were a major hit. This week, I decided to get a little more creative and I developed the MexiKali wrap.

Inspired by Brittany’s Vegetarian Zucchini Boats over at EBF, I included a little kale in these tasty wraps. My only regret was the white flour tortillas – the store was out of whole wheat and I think I would have preferred the heartier wheat wrap. Otherwise, they were a great summer meal.

MexiKali Wraps

I filled these wraps with:

  • black beans
  • cilantro-lime rice
  • crispy sauteed kale strips
  • tomato salsa
  • diced avocado (sprinkled with lime juice)

Cilantro-Lime Rice

  1. Cook one cup of brown rice according to package directions (yields 2 cups cooked rice).
  2. While rice is still warm, add 3 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lime juice.
  3. Stir in a handful of chopped cilantro and serve warm.

Crispy Sauteed Kale Strips

  1. Wash one half a bunch of kale. I used Red Russian kale for these wraps for its mild flavor. Dry leaves in a salad spinner or air dry on paper towels.
  2. Remove stems from kale. Stack 6-8 leaves and roll them lengthwise like a cigar. Starting at one end, slice the leaves into thin strips. This is how I chiffonade basil, and it works really well for chopping kale into bite-sized pieces for sandwiches.
  3. Add 2 Tbsp olive oil to a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic or 1/2 cup thinly sliced onions to the pan for flavor.
  4. Toss in the kale and saute, stirring with a wooden spoon, until tender. Continue to fry the kale until it becomes crispy. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Canned Tomato Salsa

This salsa is good for when you want fresh-tasting salsa but the tomatoes aren’t in season yet. Bonus points if you canned these yourself from last year’s crop!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced (use gloves!)
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely diced
  • 3 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Salt

Preparation:

  1. Pour the tomatoes out onto a large cooking board and chop with a large, broad knife to make sure they are uniformly chopped to a fine dice.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, cilantro, lime juice, and garlic. Add salt to taste.

I hope this one finds a place on your table this summer. I’m sure it will be returning to mine. Have a great week!