What the Heck is a Chayote Squash, and What to Drink for Cinco de Mayo?

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These weird little squashes have been staring at me from a bin in the produce section of my grocery store for far too long. I have passed by the bright green chayote squash dozens of times, wondering how to cook them and what they taste like. I finally picked up three of these weird little gourds last week, and I stumped the cashier when I went to check out.

“Excuse me, what is this?”

“Chayote. C-H-A-Y-O-T-E.”

“I don’t see the code for that, are they pears?”

“No, they’re labeled ‘chayote squash’ on the bin. Maybe they’re under ‘squash’?”

asks coworker in next lane: “Do you know the code for these?”

coworker: “No, they look like pears. Charge her for pears.”

Pears were $3.99 per pound that week, and I have no idea how much the chayote were priced per pound. I guess chayote is not a fast-mover at the Carytown Kroger. In the cashiers’ defense, the chayote does look a bit like a pear that is trying to eat itself.

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The chayote originates from Mexico, where the fruit, leaves, blossoms, and roots of the plant are eaten. The squash has a very thin green skin attached to the green-to-white flesh. The skins and seeds are edible, although I found that many recipes call for the skins and seeds to be removed. The flesh is very crisp, and the raw squash has the texture of a potato and a very mild flavor like a broccoli stalk. The chayote can be eaten raw, but it is often cooked and seasoned, or eaten in a sauce with other more flavorful ingredients.

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I found a great vegetarian recipe for Chayotes Rellenos from world-renowned chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, of The Border Grill in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Santa Monica. I had never tried one of their recipes before, so it was an evening of firsts.

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The chayote was very easy to work with. I left the skins on, but boiling caused them to peel off. The texture and flavor of the cooked chayote was similar to summer squash. I loved that this recipe incorporated epazote, and the crunch from the almonds added an unexpected and pleasant texture to the filling, which probably would have been pretty mushy otherwise, due to the cooked squash and mushrooms.

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I topped the cooked stuffed squash with some fresh pea shoots, which were an impulse purchase from Relay Foods. I normally would have tossed some cilantro on there, but I was out (rare occurrence!). One thing that recipes for stuffed squash or eggplant NEVER tell you is what to do with the extra filling. Am I the only one who always has extra filling after stuffing my vegetables?

I put the extra filling in a glass baking dish, topped it with cheese, and baked it at the same time and temperature indicated in the recipe. It worked out great.

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If you’re feeling inspired by Cinco de Mayo and you want to try out a Mexican dish besides tacos or nachos, I suggest that you give chayotes a try. Although they do not pack a ton of flavor on their own, they are very versatile and do soak up the flavors around them. Next I would like to try them in a really spicy curry, topped with chopped fresh mango, and I do not intend to wait for another holiday to do it.

What to Eat on Cinco de Mayo

If you are feeling less ingredient-adventurous but you do still want something Mexican-inspired on your table this week, check out my recipe roundup from last week.

What to Drink with Mexican Cuisine

If you want to branch out from the standard Corona, Sol, or Tecate that are very popular this time of year, head to your local craft beer store. Kyle and I collaborated on this list of brews drink with Latin American food.

For an authentic Mexican beer that is a cut above the rest, seek out Negra Modelo or Bohemia.

For a local Virginia alternative to the Mexican light lager, try Blue Mountain Brewery Lager or Legend Brewing Co Pilsner.

If you like hoppy beers, try Cigar City Brewing Jai Alai or Smuttynose Finestkind IPA.

If you intend to sit on a porch and sip beer for a few hours, pick up Sierra Nevada Summerfest or Lagunitas Daytime.

And if you just want a beer that looks great in a Cinco de Mayo party spread and is refreshing on a warm evening out on the back deck, pick up Breckenridge Brewery Agave Wheat. When you choose a beer that is infused with an iconic Mexican ingredient and labeled with a skeleton wearing a sombrero, you get an A+ for sticking to a theme!

 

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5 Vegetarian Recipes for Cinco de Mayo

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Cinco de Mayo will be here next week. Do you know what you’re making for dinner yet? Nah, me neither.

Luckily, I consider tacos to be a major food group, so I have plenty of vegetarian taco and burrito recipes here on Vegology. I never grow tired of coming up with new combinations, and Kyle and I have some variation of tacos for dinner on a weekly basis. I love them so much that I cannot possibly convey to you how extremely excited I was the first time I was linked to by F*%$ Yeah Vegan Tacos. I have several taco recipes here under the tacos tag, and some other fun Mexican inspired recipes in this post to help you plan for your Cinco de Mayo celebration. The first five recipes are Vegology originals, then there is a bonus Serious Eats recipe at the end for elotes, which are my current obsession.

Enjoy!

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Try out these MexiKali wraps that add a healthy dose of leafy greens to your standard black bean burrito. Plus there is a onus recipe for my Chipotle-style cilantro lime brown rice in that post as well.

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Embrace Springtime and make a batch of Radish Salsa to tide you over until fresh tomatoes are in season. Serve with corn chips, pita chips, over tacos and nachos, or just eat it plain like a salad!

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These Cilantro Lime Seitan Tacos feature a great vegetarian meat substitute that, as the old cliché goes, “tastes just like chicken!”

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If you’re still experiencing winter weather and want to curl up with some fall and winter veggies, try these Spicy Cauliflower Tacos with Sunchoke Hash. It is amazing how much grated and sautéed cauliflower can resemble meat when seasoned the right way.

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For a sweet and springy dessert, try these Strawberry Goat Cheese and Black Pepper Empanadas, which make for a unique and tasty end to your Cinco de Mayo meal.

Bonus recipe!

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My current obsession is Mexican street corn, and this recipe from Serious Eats is perfect! Make this one as soon as you can get your hands on some fresh corn this year. You will not regret it.

To see what I’m cooking this weekend (and to get sneak peek photos of test recipes like the grilled corn above), make sure you are following Vegology on Instagram and Twitter.

Pecan Crusted Tofu with Raspberry Mustard Sauce

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Lately I’ve been working hard, eating breakfast and lunch on the go, and craving comfort food for dinner. A plate full of vegetables with a side of crunchy pecan crusted tofu was exactly what I needed one night last week. I used a handful of fresh raspberries to make a sweet and tangy mustard sauce that complemented the pecan crusted tofu pretty well. The color of the fresh raspberry sauce was so bright that it definitely got me into the spring spirit!

Raspberry season is right around the corner, and I expect to start dipping everything in this bright red sauce very soon. I have breaded and pan-fried tofu before, but haven’t found a great breading that holds up in the oven. This pecan crust sticks to the tofu and hangs on through baking, and it stays crunchy in the oven without getting dry. Sure, it would probably be fantastic pan-fried in oil, but it works great for baking too.

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Pecan Crusted Tofu

Ingredients:

  • 1 block of tofu (12-16 oz.), drained and pressed
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or sub pecan milk or soy milk)
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Pour almond milk into a shallow bowl.
  3. In another bowl or deep plate, add all other ingredients and stir to combine.
  4. Cut pressed tofu into 1/2-inch thick slices. Dip tofu slices in milk, then cover in pecan/panko breading on all sides.
  5. Place breaded tofu in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet.
  6. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20-30 minutes, turning once halfway through.

Raspberry Mustard Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raspberries, chopped
  • 1/4 cup honey mustard
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup

Preparation:

  1. Puree raspberries in a food processor.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine raspberries, honey mustard, and maple syrup. Heat, while stirring, until sauce is bubbling, then remove from heat.
  3. Strain sauce through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds and pulp from sauce.
  4. Serve sauce hot, drizzled over pecan crusted tofu.

Have a wonderful week!

Mung Bean Pasta

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I have been trying to use my cookbooks more often. My effort has paid off with a lot of new knowledge about ingredients and some great go-to recipes that I never knew I always had, sitting right there on the bookcase in my kitchen. One thing that I was surprised to learn was how healthy mung beans are for you. Featured in my new favorite recipe for Pad Thai from Terry Walters’ Clean Food cookbook, mung bean sprouts are surprisingly nutritious. So when I saw Mung Bean Fettuccine in the grocery store, I had to give it a try.

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The package boasts an extremely high protein and fiber content as well as a high iron content, and states that the pasta is a great gluten-free alternative to wheat pasta. I am not gluten-free. In fact I think gluten is one of my favorite foods, however I am always looking for tasty protein sources so I had to check it out. Mung beans, which are low in cholesterol and high in soluble dietary fibers, can also help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Until recently, mung beans had only entered our household to fill Kyle’s iron palm training bag for Wing Chun (Kung Fu), so it was a pretty big deal to start tossing mung bean sprouts in salads and stir-fry dishes. Experimenting with the fresh, crunchy sprouts was fun, but those beady green beans were a little scary, so it took us awhile to take the next step. Opening this bag of wavy green noodles was intimidating, but we were willing to give it a go in the name of science.

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After cooking and rinsing the noodles, I tasted them plain, and they weren’t too bad. I have to be honest though, they do taste a little… grassy? Because they are naturally chewier than regular pasta, it was pretty easy to get them al dente. However, I thought they really needed some flavor (besides “health food” flavor), so I mixed them with sauteed asparagus and baby bok choy, a soy dressing, and toasted sesame seeds. A drizzle of chili sauce made the meal complete.

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I thought this salad would work well either hot or cold, but I definitely preferred it hot. The noodles were so chewy after being chilled that I had a hard time getting through half of a serving before feeling full. I guess that could be a good thing? It felt weird to me, so I reheated them with a few minutes in the microwave and a generous portion of sambal. Kyle enjoyed the dish both hot and cold, so I guess you will have to decide for yourself!

The flavor combination was very fresh and springy, and versatile enough to work with any type of grain, so I recommend that you try it out even if you substitute a different kind of pasta or rice for the mung bean fettuccine. We are now firmly in the spring season, so break out that bright green asparagus and your favorite set of chopsticks and chow down!

Sesame Mung Bean Fettuccine with Spring Vegetables

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Ingredients:

  • 7 oz. dry mung bean fettuccine
  • 3 Tbsp sesame oil, divided (2+1)
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 2 baby bok choy
  • 4 green onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup liquid aminos or low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili sauce (sriracha or similar)
  • 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Preparation:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, rinse and set aside.
  2. Chop asparagus into 1-inch pieces and roughly chop baby bok choy, discarding the ends. Thinly slice the green onions.
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 1 minute. Add bok choy and asparagus and saute until tender and bright green, about 3 minutes.
  4. To the vegetables, add garlic and saute for another minute.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the liquid aminos (or soy sauce), brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp sesame oil, and chili sauce.
  6. Add pasta and sauce to the pan with the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook until heated throughout. Add toasted sesame seeds and serve while hot.

Grilled Gruyere and Radish Sandwich

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My husband is a radish fiend. For three years I have brought them home from the market nearly every weekend that they are available, and he never tires of them. This time of year, Kyle is in radish and greens heaven, and I am constantly trying to find new ways to prepare both. We have always eaten radishes raw, so last week I roasted a bunch of French breakfast radishes with carrots – big win! I highly recommend it. This week, I got home from the market and immediately dumped my purchases out and searched for lunch inspiration.

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This week at the South of the James farmers’ market, I picked up Agriberry strawberries, Norma’s Produce baby yellow squash, Norwood Cottage craisin bread, Crumptown Farm Tokyo Bekana (a new-to-me green!), Walnut Hill Farm turnips (with bonus greens – two vegetables for the price of one!), Bella Grove purple radishes, and Broadfork Farm dill. Our cluster of radishes was small and it was calling my name. It was a little cool outside that day, and I thought grilled cheese sounded pretty good. I decided to add some sliced radishes to our grilled cheese sandwiches to provide a little crunch and flavor.

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I used some smooth, nutty, Gruyere cheese that I had leftover from last week’s groceries, leftover spinach leaves, and thinly sliced spicy radishes, with a thin spread of Dijon mustard, sandwiched between two slices of Ellwood’s Bakery whole wheat bread, over-buttered and griddled to golden brown in a pan. I wasn’t planning on making these sandwiches for a post, but they turned out so well that I decided to take some photos and share the recipe with you. This is super simple, but a little different, so I thought it felt special. I served with a  bowl of fresh strawberries and iced coffee. If we were having these for dinner, I would definitely serve with a glass of Syrah instead.

Sometimes the recipes you come up with on the fly, with the freshest local ingredients available, are the best ones. So, while you probably don’t need the instructions, I’m giving you a grilled cheese recipe. Enjoy!

Grilled Gruyere and Radish Sandwich

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Ingredients:

  • 2 slices of bread (I used whole wheat)
  • 1 ounce Gruyere cheese
  • 2 small radishes, sliced
  • 1/4 cup spinach leaves
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • Butter

Preparation:

  1. Heat a medium pan over medium heat. Melt a dab of butter or oil in the pan to coat.
  2. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Stack them with the buttered sides facing each other, On the top slice of bread, spread the Dijon mustard.
  3. On top of the mustard, place the spinach, cheese, and radishes.
  4. When the pan is hot, take the top slice of bread with its toppings and place it buttered side down in the pan. Top with the other slice of bread, butter side up.
  5. Cook for 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown.

Hello Spring! Salad

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This time of year, when the air is thick with pollen and my cloudy sinuses make me feel like I’m in a permanent fog, there are just a few things that are enticing enough to get me out of the house and into nature. One of those things is the South of the James farmers’ market, which I visited last weekend. The market tables are covered in green, with bright pops of red, pink and orange, during the spring season. The stars of the show are the strawberries, asparagus, and fresh herbs, with fresh greens rounding out the strong ensemble. Last week, I also picked up turnips, radishes, sugar snap peas, goat cheese, and fresh pasta.

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If you get there early enough, you can get local farm fresh eggs, which are a real treat. Lately we have enjoyed eggs and greens, fried in the same skillet, for an easy weeknight meal. I prepare them by wilting the greens in olive oil and garlic, cracking a few eggs into the pan, and then covering it and simmering for 3-4 minutes. Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper top it off, with some grated Parmesan if we’re feeling extra indulgent. So quick and easy, nutrient-packed and delicious, it’s no wonder we have had this dish once a week for the last month.

I have been staring at the Israeli (pearl) couscous on my pantry shelf since the last snow, waiting for inspiration to strike. A bunch of fresh dill and asparagus turned a craving for Israeli couscous into a full-fledged spring recipe idea, and I have made this easy salad a few times since. I look forward to trying it with some Bombolini pasta herb shells in place of the couscous later this week. Likewise, you could substitute whatever fresh herbs you have on hand for the dill; I think tarragon or parsley would be great. The lemon and asparagus complement each other, and the peas lend a sweetness to the dish that balances the tartness of the lemon. This refreshing salad is perfect for dining on the patio, if you can brave the pollen and get out of the house to enjoy some warm spring sunshine.

Pearl Couscous Salad with Roasted Asparagus, Peas, Lemon and Dill

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Ingredients:

  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 1-1/3 cups Israeli (pearl) couscous
  • 2 cups sweet peas, blanched
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • 6 green onions (scallions), chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss asparagus with 1 Tbsp olive oil, and light salt and pepper.
  2. On a rimmed baking sheet, roast asparagus for 15 minutes at 400 degrees F, or until bright green and tender-crisp.
  3. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in medium pan over medium-high heat. Add couscous to pan, and toast 5 minutes, while stirring.
  4. Add 1-3/4 cups water to the pan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer couscous for 10 minutes.
  5. To a large bowl, add peas, dill, and green onions.
  6. In a small bowl, combine 2 Tbsp olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, and lemon zest. Stir thoroughly to combine.
  7. When asparagus and couscous are done cooking, add both to the large bowl and stir to combine. Add dressing and toss to coat evenly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve warm, or refrigerate a few hours or overnight to let flavors develop and serve chilled.
  9. Extra credit: serve with a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc. Mmm.

Vegetarian Beer Dinner III

Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments and words of encouragement on my last post. This beer dinner recap is a few weeks late, but I cut myself some slack, since the week after the beer dinner I focused solely on preparing for my first half marathon, and I have been recovering ever since! Thank you for your patience!

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It’s that time of year again. . .

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Seasonal vegetarian beer dinner time!

A few weeks ago, I hosted a potluck vegetarian beer dinner to celebrate the flavors of late winter and early spring. Some good friends showed up with vegetarian dishes paired with seasonal beers, and we all enjoyed tasting a diverse array of delicious combinations. You might recall that this is the third dinner of its kind that we have hosted en la casa de Vegology.

Check out my recaps of past beer dinners here:

Vegetarian Beer Dinner I – Summer 2012

Vegetarian Beer Dinner II – Winter 2012

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As usual, we had notebooks for taking notes on our favorite pairings, as well as the ever-present “Beer: it’s not just for dinner” cocktail napkins. Of course there were plastic tasting glasses, because my only dishwasher is named Kyle, and I love him enough to keep him from washing fourteen glasses by hand when we already have fourteen plates and fourteen forks to take care of!

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I offered oyster crackers as a palate cleanser this time around, and they were a real hit. Someone enthusiastically commented “I only go wine tasting for the oyster crackers!” I have to say that I agree that these little crackers are one of the highlights of wine tasting in Virginia. Smile

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Our dining room was jam packed with chairs and people. I don’t know if I could have fit any more seats in there! Not only was the dining room full, but we also packed the refrigerator and a cooler full of a wide variety of craft beers. Here is the lineup: Potter’s Craft Cider, Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, Stillwater Artisanal Ales and Brewer’s Art Debutante, Bell’s Oarsman Ale, Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils, and The Duck Rabbit Brown Ale.

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Course 1 – Sarah (The Smart Kitchen), Liz (I Heart Vegetables) and Lindsay (Neat As You Please)

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Sarah, Liz and Lindsay put together an awesome appetizer of Apple Fennel Salad Skewers with Creamy Ginger Apple Honey Mustard Dressing (recipe). They paired this with Potter’s Craft Cider, and the complementary apple flavors were a great fresh start to the meal. Sarah won the prize for best pairing story, explaining why she wanted to use Potter’s cider (a cute guy in the tasting room had something to do with it) and how she came up with her dish (why not put salad on a stick?).

Course 2 – Adrienne (Hippie Itch) and Al

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I was super impressed by Adrienne’s made-from-scratch samosas (recipe from Skinny Bitch), that were totally vegan and bursting with flavor. Just like their pairing, the Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, these perfectly portioned appetizers packed a serious punch, but with enough restraint that they didn’t knock you completely over, so you could really enjoy the complex flavors inside. If I can muster the patience to make this dough from scratch, I would like to try making this one at home sometime.

Course 3 – Lauren and Kyle (Vegology)

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For the entrée course, I made Spiced Red Lentil Chickpea Cakes. We all joked that Adrienne and I must have been on the same wavelength with the Indian flavors! You can follow the link above to get the recipe and to read about how I came up with my pairing. Kyle and I tasted a lot of beers before we chose this one, and we ultimately decided to serve Debutante, a saison which is a collaboration beer from Stillwater Artisanal Ales and Brewer’s Art, both from my hometown of Baltimore.

Because it was dark by the time we got to my course and I couldn’t get a great picture during the dinner, I can’t resist posting this glamour shot of the dish here:

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Course 4 – Paul and Leah

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Our friends Paul and Leah brought over a pairing that, no matter how fast you paddled or how hard you tried, you couldn’t get away from. Beets! After having this tasty Golden and Crimson Beet Salad with Oranges, Fennel and Feta (recipe), we noticed that little traces of bright pink kept showing up in subsequent courses. Check out the next two photos on this post to see what I mean – we got the beet! The beer paired with this course was Bell’s Oarsman Ale. I always thought this beer tasted a little sour (in a good way) and after reading the Bell’s description, I realize there is a better way to describe the flavor – citrusy tartness – which paired very well with the citrusy beet salad. This was one of the few dishes that I went back for seconds on, so I know it will make another appearance in my kitchen soon.

Course 5 – Bob and Ashley

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Our friends Bob and Ashley hit a home run with their comfort food pairing, which included a creamy polenta cooked with beer and Asiago cheese, with Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils to wash it down. I begged to keep the leftovers and Bob and Ashley were too nice to say no, so I was treated to a second serving of this delicious polenta the next day (okay, the next morning. no judge!) Bob is a skilled home brewer that taught Kyle a lot of what he knows about brewing beer. Bob and Kyle’s latest home brew creations came out a little bit later, which is always a fun add-on to the tasting dinner.

Course 6 – Shannon (Thirsty Richmond) and Evan

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Shannon, the Queen of the Beer Cakes, did it again with another fantastic beer baked dessert. Even though Shannon’s oven failed to turn on the day of the dinner, Shannon found a way to get us a creative dessert. If I had found myself in the same situation, I might have just given up and picked up a pack of cookies on the way over, but Shannon persisted. Spontaneously turning her vegan cupcake recipe (similar here) into a vegan brownie recipe, she fired up the toaster oven and pulled off a brownie bar that was so good that I didn’t even miss the cupcakes (and let me tell you, her cupcakes are out of this world). She used Duck Rabbit Brown Ale in the batter and as the pairing beer.

Not 100% confident that the brownies would turn out well, Shannon also picked up a pack of Oreos (vegan!) on the way over just in case. We cleaned our plates and made a dent in the Oreos. And then there were all those leftover “extra” beers that mysteriously disappeared, one by one, as the night went on. Go team beer dinner!

Thanks to all who participated. We had a blast and I’m already dreaming up plans for the next one this summer!