Mexican-Inspired Squash

When you like something that’s healthy more than the person you’re in a relationship does, there have to be accommodations made.  That’s what this recipe is about.

I love squash.  I loved it when I was a baby.  My mother made my baby food from scratch, since those were the days when baby food still had sugar and salt in it, and some of the yellow vegetables – sweet potatoes and squash especially – were both easy to prepare using a food mill and easy to get me to eat.  My mom would cook batches of vegetables, freeze the prepared food in ice cube trays, and at mealtimes, take out a divided baby dish and put a couple cubes of applesauce in one cavity, a couple cubes of squash or sweet potatoes in another, cereal in the third, then heat it in the oven.

One time when she took me to the pediatrician, he remarked on my skin color.  My mother hadn’t noticed, but the doctor said that I had a bit of a yellow tinge.  They eventually deduced that it was my phenomenally healthy diet that was the culprit.  My mom says she doesn’t remember the doctor telling her to cut back on the yellow-orange stuff, but that not long after that I got to the stage where I could eat more solid foods, and with the introduction of more green vegetables, my yellow color disappeared.

My beloved has never been in any danger of turning himself yellow, but he’ll tolerate some squash as long as there are other things on the menu.  He loves spicy food, so that’s the accommodation.  We had this with black beans seasoned with plenty of lime juice, garlic and cilantro over tortilla chips with a little cheese.  This is scandalously easy if you bake the squash in advance, and baking the squash in advance is also scandalously easy.

1 medium butternut squash

1 t. canola oil for the squash

1 T. canola oil for the pan

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 chipotle chili en adobo, minced

3/4 c. cilantro, minced

1 T. hot sauce (Whole Foods private label)

Juice of half a lime

2 T. orange juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Wash the exterior of the squash and then split it lengthwise.  If you wish to remove the seeds in order to bake them to use as a snack or plant them, remove them.  If not, they can be left in, as they become quite easy to remove once the squash is baked.  Rub a little oil on both faces of the squash, and lay it flat side down on a baking sheet.  Place the sheet in the oven and bake until the squash is browned and tender when pierced with a fork, about one hour depending on size.

When the squash is cooked, remove the seeds if you have not previously done so.  Turn the squash on its flat side and remove the skin.  Cut it lengthwise into strips, then crosswise into rough cubes.  It will disintegrate on cooking, so don’t worry too much about the uniformity of your cubes.

Heat the canola oil in a deep, wide pot over medium-high until it is hot but not smoking.  Toss in the garlic, chipotle chili, and cilantro, and sizzle until the garlic is fragrant but not browned.  This should take less than a minute.  Add the cubes of squash and stir, turning, until the squash and seasonings are well-mixed.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until heated through if the squash was previously baked and refrigerated.  When it is hot through, add the hot sauce, lime juice, and orange juice.  Stir to combine.  Serve hot.  Makes about 8 servings – depending on who you’re eating with and how much they like squash.

Carrot and Tomato Soup

Sometimes I have an idea of a recipe and must adjust partway through. This was one of those. I thought I’d make this soup with a strong hit of fresh ginger, but it turned out we’d just finished up the ginger on the tofu and green beans we made tonight. Instead, I started the soup with chopped garlic and powdered ginger, which contributes a less aggressive, darker note than fresh ginger’s brash brightness.

I made this because there were tomatoes that needed to be used; a container of cream in the fridge is such a boon when there are random vegetables to be productively dispensed with. All you need are cooked vegetables seasoned with one or two distinctive seasonings, then buzzed through the blender, back into the pan, cream in, and maybe a fresh herb or some juice stirred in if you have it.

Frozen vegetables, also, can be quickly turned into something wonderful with a good dollop of cream. A bag of frozen peas, a sautéed onion, cream, salt to taste and a generous grinding of pepper at the end make something that will surely bring up memories of spring. A little chopped spinach or briefly heated lettuce added to that adds to the vernal mood.

For tonight, this didn’t go exactly as planned, since I didn’t have the ginger I was thinking I’d use, but it came out nicely anyway; bright carnival orange with a mild citrus flavor, and background notes of ginger and garlic.

1/2 T. butter
1/2 T. canola oil
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 t. powdered ginger
1 large tomato, roughly chopped
1 c. grape tomatoes
7 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
salt to taste
1 c. water
1/2 c. cream
1/4 t. paprika
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. orange juice

Heat the butter and oil together in a large saucepan. (I use part oil to allow for sautéing, and to cut the saturated fat a little bit because cream will be added later.) When hot, add the garlic and sauté briefly, until fragrant but not browned. Add the ginger and stir briefly until incorporated into the fat, then add the carrots and tomatoes. Crush the grape tomatoes with your hands as you add them to the pan. (Be careful, they squirt like crazy.) Add salt to taste (you’ll need less if you add it at this point). Cover the pan, reduce the heat to just below medium, and cook until the carrots are tender. Remove from the heat.

Place the contents of the pan into the blender or food processor, and cover. Puree, adding up to 1 c. of liquid as necessary to process. Return the puree to the pan and add the cream and paprika, and stir to combine. Add the lemon and orange juices, and stir again to combine. Check seasoning and reheat as necessary, without allowing to boil.

Cream soups benefit from decoration: dust with paprika or minced herbs or drizzle with additional cream before serving.

Roasted Tofu and Mushrooms

Oh yeah, doesn’t that sound awesome?

Really, if you’ve never liked tofu, this is a good place to start. The time in the oven does away with the squishy cloudlike blandness, reducing the tofu to crispy-edged little hunks of protein and the mushrooms to an intensely flavored chewy adjunct. It really is good.

As a bonus, once the initial chopping is done, this dish requires very little tending – it goes in the oven and requires only an occasional stir.

This is a fine thing to toss with just about any stir-fry. The reason for doing it in the oven is that browning tofu in a pan takes a lot of time, attention, and oil, and adds enormously to the time it takes to get a stir-fry together. If you can do the tofu part in the oven, where it can tend itself, everything else goes much easier. At the end, serve yourself your rice, stir-fry, and then some tofu and mushrooms on top.

There is garlic powder in this recipe, which I hardly ever use – I have it on hand for garlic bread. Sure, I love bruschetta with fresh garlic rubbed across its surface, but I also like the more pedestrian butter and garlic salt broiled until bubbling. The reason it’s here is because fresh garlic would scorch, and the idea of the dish is really more in line with that broiled garlic bread. You could make this without the garlic powder and then toss in a couple cloves of fresh garlic at or near the end, which I’m sure would be wonderful as well, but the idea was for this to be easy.

Now you know I’m a garlic powder apologist. (That phrase does not currently appear on Google…am I the first?)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

1 lb. extra-firm tofu, drained and thoroughly patted dry (I’ve used Nasoya and White Wave in this recipe with equal success), then cut into 1/2” squares.
1-6 oz. package cremini mushrooms (look for “baby bellas” if they’re not labeled as cremini), stems removed, cleaned, and finely chopped

1 T. fresh ginger, minced
1/2 t. ginger powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 t. paprika
2 T. tamari
2 t. sesame oil
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt to taste

Place the tofu and mushrooms in a 13×9 glass baking dish. Combine the seasoning ingredients and pour over the tofu. Toss all ingredients to combine. Place in the oven on the middle rack, and roast, stirring every ten minutes or so, until the tofu is well-colored, the mushrooms have reduced in volume, and the whole mixture is more dry. This will take 30-40 minutes. The tofu will continue to firm up and shrink after it is removed from the oven, so it does not need to be completely dry when removed from the heat.

This method is also quite nice when the mushrooms are replaced with red peppers.