Corn, Tomato and Black Bean Salad with a Lime-Chipotle Dressing

We’ve been making salad for dinner. Given the heat, we’ve been making salad for dinner a lot. Last week, for instance, we managed to not turn on the stove for five consecutive days.

It’s fair to say that I have a bit of a taco salad problem. It’s been my favorite meal for, oh, about 20 years now. The way I satisfy that ongoing jag has shifted a bit, admittedly; this is light years away from iceberg lettuce in a deep-fried white flour tortilla.

But if you share with me a love for that spicy-cool-tart-crunchy-citrusy combination – not that I’m admitting to anything, but if, let’s say, you did something on the order of driving three exits down the Beltway to hang out at a fast-food restaurant that rhymes with Paco Hell in the middle of the night in high school, but have since turned your heart toward wholesome food – this is the salad for you.

This corn, tomato and black bean salad is one that can only be born at midsummer – it needs perfectly sweet-tart tomatoes, not to mention crunchy-sweet corn. Cilantro backs up the citrusy note of the lime-based dressing, and black beans and bulghur give it the heft that a main-dish salad should have.

Sure, the black beans make sense, but the bulghur might seem out of left field, right? It has a good reason for being there. It adds what I think is an essential chewy note, something that salads often lack. The bulghur fills that textural gap and makes the whole combination much more satisfying to eat.

Continue reading “Corn, Tomato and Black Bean Salad with a Lime-Chipotle Dressing”

Roasted Potatoes with a Chili-Roasted Garlic-Pepita Sauce

I made these with Chimp in mind.

A large pile of potatoes makes him happy, especially if the pile also includes hot stuff. He seems to have a palate made of asbestos – he has little sense of smell, which is probably part of why he can tolerate such incendiary foods, since so much of taste is smell. When I make Breakfast Potatoes, he usually lashes them with the Pride of Pittsburgh, which hurts a little bit, because I think they taste great with just the vegetables and spices. Knowing that’s his druther, though, I thought potatoes tossed with a ground-chili sauce with a similar texture might go over well.

That said, these aren’t terribly hot. They’re made with California chilies; you could choose a hotter chili to up the heat quotient.

When his folks were here last weekend, we stopped at the Valley Pistachio Country Store for them to pick up unreasonable amounts of nuts to take back east with them. I got a bag of organic pistachios and a bag of pepitas. For some reason, the Whole Foods here doesn’t have pepitas (or flageolet beans, weirdly), and they’re a favorite of mine.

We got Red Bliss potatoes in our CSA box last week – a big bag of them, enough that I was a little alarmed. Uh oh, I thought. What if they send us this many potatoes every week? I can’t possibly eat this many potatoes every week.

Well, we did get potatoes again this week, but instead of being five pounds of Red Bliss, it was just a pound or two of Yukon Golds; three good-sized ones. I had a little laugh at myself while I was putting the contents of the box away. When I pulled out the bag with the three Yukon Gold potatoes, I thought, Thank goodness they didn’t give us another five pounds of potatoes! However, the part of me that has now bought six pounds of cherries two weeks in a row and for some unknown reason feels secure only when way too much food is purchased thought Only three?

It’s okay. Three will be plenty. Chimp had made a few of the Red Bliss into a fine Aloo Mater earlier in the week, using yogurt and the peas from the CSA box, and Friday night, while I was lying in bed, I thought about what to do with the remainder of them.

Ground chilies, I thought. Pepitas. New World potatoes – ingredients native to the Americas. Like patatas bravas, except roasted, and with chili sauce instead of tomato and chili sauce. Chimp would like that for breakfast.

Saturday morning, I got up at 5 a.m., thanks to my beloved tiny black shrill-voiced cat Mingus, who told me he was starving to death, having not been fed since Chimp gave him his late-night can at 2 a.m. (A vet once told us she thought Mingus was half-Siamese. We told her it was definitely the front half.)

When I came back from the farmers’ market, I started the potatoes – re-hydrating chilies, roasting garlic, chopping herbs, toasting spices. The finished dish was ready by the time Chimp got up, about 11:30. He served himself some, and I waited a minute to see what would happen.

Success – he didn’t reach for the ketchup.

Vegan Spring Tacos with Cucumber, Radish and Avocado

I came home from WFM the other day, having gone there for a few staples.

“I found some local food you’ll like,” I said to Chimp.

“What’s that?” he asked.

I held up a snack-food bag. “La Tapatia tortilla chips.” (Hooray, another anthropomorphized tortilla mascot!)

“Cool. Where are they made?”

On Belmont.”

So though the corn for the masa may not be local, those chips, and the tortillas I bought with them, were made within eight miles of our house.

I’ve often seen the La Tapatia trucks driving around Fresno. Fresh corn tortillas are another animal entirely from the store-bought ones that have been previously frozen. I’ve never had the great fortune to have someone hand-make me tortillas from freshly prepared masa, but if it was another magnitude better than those from La Tapatia, I might not be able to go on living.

This dish is definitely in service of my need for cooler food.

We pile a great deal of different things on top of black beans throughout the year to make seasonal tacos – corn and tomato salad in the summer, hot-sauce-laced roasted butternut squash in the fall, shredded cabbage, carrot and red onion salad in the winter. For spring, here’s a crunchy-creamy-cool mixed vegetable salad. You could add crumbled Mexican, feta or jack cheese if you felt like you just couldn’t live without the dairy.

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Coconut Cream of Tomato and Corn

Earlier in the week, when we went grocery shopping, I thought I would make a tortilla soup. By the time it got to be yesterday, though, I was no longer very excited about the idea. How could I make a corn-and-tomato soup more interesting? I thought. I knew onions, garlic, tomatoes, corn and cilantro would be involved. Into the fridge. Earlier in the week, Chimp made a Thai curry – the other half of the can of coconut milk he had opened was still in there.

That sounded like a good idea. After all, there are Indian and Thai tomato soups made with coconut milk; the Indian versions use cumin as an aromatic, a spice shared by Mexican cooking, and Thai versions are sharpened with kaffir leaves or lemongrass where Mexican cooking might place lime juice. Coconut makes its way into Mexican beverages and desserts, at least, to my knowledge – and coconut milk is so rich, you can hardly go wrong adding it to something.

This was a success. I would have had to fight Chimp for the last of this if I was the fighting type.

This soup has a certain familiarity to it; it reminds me of a mulligatawny that I used to get at Gulshan, my beloved and long-defunct Indian restaurant on 2nd Avenue in NYC. There’s one by the same name on 6th St.; who knows if it’s the same one? (If it did still exist and I went back there, I would probably not think it was great now, based on all the restaurants I have eaten at in the past dozen years, but it was great to me then – and really cheap, which was of paramount importance at the time.)

I’ve tried to reproduce that soup many, many times over the years, and I think I am finally getting close. I’ll likely try a version of this without corn and with carrots soon to see if that gets even closer. If I made this as is again, I’d probably increase the amount of corn; it ended up playing an almost imperceptible background role.

I even measured the amounts on this, for once.

Continue reading “Coconut Cream of Tomato and Corn”

Tortilla Casserole Redux

I’ve posted this before, with a loose recipe. I made it for dinner tonight, so I thought I’d take a picture and write out the version I did tonight, which was a little more involved.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

1 recipe Refried Beans
oil for the pan
12 corn tortillas
1 1/2 c. salsa
2 c. corn (frozen is okay, as long as it’s winter)
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
2/3 lb. cheese (queso fresco, jack, cheddar, whatever floats your boat), grated

In a small, shallow frying pan, heat over medium heat enough oil to cover a tortilla. When oil is hot, fry tortillas one at a time, draining on absorbent toweling. Set aside

Cook the corn (I microwaved); season to taste. Saute the bell peppers in any remaining oil from the tortillas. Set both aside.

Using a large casserole (about 10 x 10 or equivalent), assemble the casserole. Place three tortillas (torn if necessary) in the bottom of the dish and cover evenly with 1/4 c. salsa. Add one-quarter of the cooked beans, and spread evenly. Repeat with the same proportion of corn and peppers and then cheese. Repeat layers, eventually finishing with cheese on top.

Place in oven, uncovered, and bake for 40 minutes, until browned and bubbly on top.

Makes about eight servings.

Refried Beans

Refried – one of the greatest misnomers in food? Perhaps not quite up there with the difference between sweetmeats and sweetbreads, sure, but deceptive nonetheless.

This is more work than opening a couple cans. It’s very good, though, and dry beans are a much better deal than canned.

2.5 c. dry pinto beans, sorted, soaked for 8 hours or quick soaked

oil for the pan
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle chili, minced
1 jalapeno chili, minced
1 T. cumin
1 T. paprika
2 T. Whole Food Market 365 Hot Sauce
juice of one lime
1 c. minced cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

I use a pressure cooker for anything dry bean-related. It cuts the cooking time by at least half.

Place the soaked beans, water to cover and salt to taste to the pressure cooker. Bring it to pressure and cook for 20 minutes. Release pressure under running water. Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid, and set liquid aside. Mash beans coarsely, using a potato masher, adding cooking liquid as necessary to make workable.

While the beans are cooking, sauté the onion in a large pot. Cook until the onion is well-softened and some pieces have brown edges. Add the garlic, chilies, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring, for a minute or two, until the garlic releases its fragrance and the paprika colors slightly.

Turn the mashed beans into the pot, add the hot sauce, lime juice, and cilantro and stir to mix. Taste and correct seasoning if necessary and heat through.

Makes about eight cups cooked beans.

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.