Spaghetti Squash Lettuce Wraps, Asian-style

 

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Fair warning: this post brought to you by “Blogging and hunger don’t go well together”. Welp, unfortunately that’s the only time I’m ever blogging, as trial runs and free mornings with unlimited light aren’t really part of my vocabulary right now.

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Oh well. Don’t look at the pictures, consider this instead: Super healthy! Vegan! Gluten free! And somehow… really really tasty. Like wolf down 4 in a row without coming up for air. Daniel attacked them it like it was a plate of cheeseburgers (remember, vegan, gluten free!)! After your first bite you’ll glance down at the rest of the pan and wonder if you can polish it off without judgement and then realize YES! I CAN! Vegan! Gluten free! Really really tasty!

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The impetus for this recipe was a) the spaghetti squash I totally impulse-bought last week (why oh why can’t I have normal impulse buys like fancy cheese or chocolate??) and b) the influx of lettuce from our CSA(!!!). I love cooking me up some greens and eating them with toast and eggs for breakfast, with rice and beans for lunch, and mixed with pasta for dinner, but lettuce is another beast altogether. Lettuce-based salads just don’t give me the same amount of joy (*usually). Hence, lettuce wraps. Yum. The filling can be flexible, but this had the perfect texture and umami combination, so deviate at your own risk. This is a bit spicy, but goes so well with the sweet chili sauce! (I have this one and it’s great for marinating or stir-fry!)

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one year ago: …crickets…
two years ago: 
roasted beets and their greens with yogurt and simple rhubarb cake AND tofu banh mi

Spaghetti Squash Lettuce Wraps, Asian-style

a swanky original

1 spaghetti squash
1 tablespoon olive oil + extra for drizzling
½ an onion, diced
2 big cloves garlic, minced
1 serrano chile, some seeds removed, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
5 white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
½ red pepper, in thin strips
3 oz baked teriyaki tofu, in matchsticks
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Half a lime
Lettuce leaves of choice (I used romaine and it was tasty but messy!)
s&p
Cilantro, lightly chopped
Peanuts, lightly chopped
Sweet chili dipping sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut spaghetti squash in half, drizzle with olive oil and s&p, and place cut-side down on roasting pan. Roast for 35-45 minutes. When done, scrape squash with a fork to create noodle-like squash segments.

Meanwhile, heat up 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, add garlic, serrano chile, and ginger. Cook for another 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, peppers, s&p and cook for 3 more minutes. Add tofu and squash strands and cook for another 2 minutes. Add sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and big spritz of lime juice.

Wash lettuce leaves well. Spoon squash-tofu-mushroom filling into leaves, and top with cilantro and peanuts. Dip into sweet chili sauce (or make a fancy-shmancy sauce on your own.)

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Vaguely-Lebanese Deconstructed Stuffed Eggplant with Yogurt Sauce

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In the past month I’ve done more writing than I have in years. Since college, or maybe even before. When I press CMD+N, my 16th Word document opens and I’m reminded how much I am stressing out my computer (sorry!). Each of these 16 documents have headings like “Lidia interview” or “Stu monologue” or “the underwear scene”.

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These pieces of writing are all based on stories and interviews I’ve conducted at two different Upper West Side senior centers over the past three months, and are leading to two original plays, which both happen to be about New York City. The seniors are grateful we are listening to their stories and crafting these scenes of their lives, but I also am so excited and grateful that I’m actually getting paid to listen, to learn, to create, to encourage. I’ve heard handfuls of stories about coming to America, old and new traditions, standing up to sexism, the importance of family, and the most adorable love stories. It’s fun to write scenes in each individual’s voice (although that’s a whole lot harder in Spanish!), have them read them, and make edits and suggestions. A truly collaborative process. (Until it’s not fun anymore, like when they keep changing the details of a story, or insist you put in that one line that doesn’t move the story along and is actually quite confusing…)

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These words come easily enough to me, as I feel I am just a mouthpiece through which others can see their experiences. Harder, sometimes, to write as meaningfully about the stuff I consume. I mean, eating happens multiple times a day, how often do you get to write scenes about a marriage proposal over a slice of pizza or about finding worms while shelling peas in Panama?? Here we go — this eggplant was bonkers good. Delicious, nutritious, and super easy. Filling, leftoverable, good warm or cold! Adjectives! I got this! Sorry about the super long title! (but you were intrigued, right? Adjectives!)

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one year ago: tatsoi and tofu stir-fry with soba noodles and kale caesar salad
two!! years ago: rhubarb, chickpea, and spinach stew with cilantro-lemon yogurt sauce (guess it’s a yogurt sauce time of year!)

Vaguely-Lebanese Deconstructed Stuffed Eggplant with Yogurt Sauce

adapted from food network 

1 big eggplant, in bite-sized pieces
1 red pepper, in bite-sized pieces
2 shallots, unpeeled
5-8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Generous ¼ cup olive oil + extra to drizzle
¼ cup pine nuts
½ cup Greek yogurt
¼ cup dill, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Big drizzle pomegranate molasses (optional)
½ cup cilantro leaves
s&p

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On 1 big or 2 smaller roasting sheets, mix together eggplant, peppers, shallots, and garlic cloves. Toss with the olive oil and sprinkle with s&p. Roast for 30-35 minutes, stirring once, until the vegetables are browned and tender, and the shallots and garlic are soft and smooshy. (#technicalterm) Once they’ve cooled a bit, peel shallots and slice into thin rings.

Meanwhile, toast pine nuts in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently. This should take about 3 minutes. Set aside. To make dressing, mix together Greek yogurt, chopped dill, a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice, and pomegranate molasses, if using. Smoosh roasted garlic cloves into the yogurt dressing.

In a big bowl, combine eggplant, pepper, shallot rings, most of the pine nuts, and cilantro leaves. Mix in yogurt dressing. Sprinkle remaining pine nuts on individual portions. I recommend serving with couscous for the full deconstructed stuffed eggplant dealio.

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Rice Noodle Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing

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Let’s go on a little cause-and-effect journey here. I went to Guatemala last fall to feel confident enough with my Spanish so I could lead theater classes in Spanish. (PS Guatemalan food here and here!)

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I got my current job teaching theater at senior centers because someone decided I knew what I was doing in Spanish, never having heard me speak, at least enough to facilitate theater-related conversations. (They weren’t wrong, but that was a pretty lucky leap of faith on both of our parts.)

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And so this is how I’ve come to spend the last couple Fridays at a mostly Dominican and Puerto Rican senior center, listening to salsa music and getting down with the seniors. Who all think I look like their 17-year-old granddaughters. Ay dios mio.

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And this is how I get pretty tired on Friday evenings, and end up wanting easy and filling dinners made of stuff I already have in my fridge. Especially when they combine into something more than the sum of their parts, creating an exciting and uber-fresh quick spring meal. This want is true of pretty much every week night, but it, uh, leads pretty nicely into my fabricated segway, which is…

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…and so going to Guatemala last November is basically responsible for this recipe.

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…obviously.🙂 Rice noodles bulk up everyone’s favorite salad dressing recipe, you know, the ubiquitous orange carrot-ginger situation that always causes a serious headache, cause HOW DO YOU CHOOSE between it and miso soup??! Let’s be honest, you could dip literally anything in your fridge into this dressing and be happy about it. Even radishes. Blech, I so dislike radishes. Thanks, Guatemala! 

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Served with this awesome hot&sour soup for a better-than-takeout feast!

one year ago: black bean, mango, and corn salad-alsa

Rice Noodle Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing

Dressing adapted from pure wow

For salad
4 oz rice noodles
Toasted sesame oil
2 cups lettuce, shredded (I’ve used iceberg and green leaf)
½ a cucumber, thinly sliced (or mandolined)
1 ripe tomatoes, cut in wedges
Handful cilantro leaves

Dressing
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ of an onion, roughly chopped
½ tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
¾ cup neutral oil (like vegetable or canola)
Salt

Dressing

In a food processor, pulse carrots, ginger, and onion until they become tiny, uniform pieces. Add sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, oil, and a dash of salt and process until smooth. Taste to see if you need more salt. Set aside. Dressing will last at least a week in the fridge, and likely longer.

Salad

Cook rice noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cool water, and toss with toasted sesame oil to keep noodles from sticking to each other.

Using tongs, mix together noodles, shredded lettuce, and a 3-4 big spoonfuls of dressing in a big bowl. Top with cucumber and tomato slices, cilantro leaves, and extra dollops of dressing.

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Pomegranate Molasses & Za’atar Granola

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I went to Jordan and all I got was this lousy granola idea. Which, in truth, is the FARthest thing from lousy. (And, also, I got some iron camel hooks that were confiscated at security and which forced us to check an extra bag, for only the camel hooks. Truly silly. (Or not? I could’ve inflicted some pretty brutal terror on the kicking screaming kids behind me with those hooks if I wanted. ….aaand with that, I’ve been forever placed on the no-fly list. Sorry children. I joke.))

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And anyways, it’s not true. I experienced a truly beautiful and memorable week discovering Jordan’s ancient wonders. Thankful to little bro for being worldly and brave enough to live in the Middle East for a semester (when I chose Tuscany). Thankful to my parents for their inclusive vacation-style and impeccable taste. Thankful to tourist buffets for the extra jiggle in my thighs. And while we’re at it, thankful for making this granola stretch a whole two weeks so I can continue eating it while writing about it. If you have any inclination to visit Jordan, I wholeheartedly suggest you leap. Highlights include Amman rambling, the high-walled canyon Wadi Mujib water hike thru rapids and up waterfalls, the glory of Petra at night and from above, Wadi Rum’s Mars-like splendor, the huge and well-preserved Jerash ruins, and a million tiny corner falafel shops. I only have good things to say.

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This granola is tangy from the pomegranate molasses and almost savory from the za’atar (a green Middle Eastern spice blend). These two ingredients are coincidentally my favorite hummus toppings and are valuable in so many contexts. (Also see: pomegranate molasses in my baked bean recipe and za’atar atop this butternut and tahini mash.) You can find both in any Middle Eastern-style grocery store and perhaps the international aisle of a regular well-stocked store. Due to my nut allergy, I pack my granola full of seeds, but please substitute or add whatever little nuts you think go.

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one year ago: ginger coconut rice 

Pomegranate Molasses & Za’atar Granola

a swanky original

2 cups old-fashioned oats
¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon chia seeds
¼ cup dried dates, cut into small pieces
¼ cup za’atar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
¼ cup honey
¼ cup vegetable oil
Juice from half an orange

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a big bowl, mix together the oats, three types of seeds, and dates. Add za’atar and salt.

In a big glass measuring cup, combine pomegranate molasses, honey, oil, and orange juice. Mix until combined. Pour into dry ingredients and mix well with wooden spoon.

Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet (or two if half-sized) so mixture covers pan in a thin layer. Bake for 50-60 minutes, stirring once or twice, until oats are toasted and everything sticks together.

Remove from oven and let cool all the way. Break into clumps. Serve on top of yogurt, or eat plain by the handful. Store in a ziplock bag.

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Herby Sunchoke Gorgonzola Salad

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Sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes), when roasted in a pool of olive oil and liberally decorated with salt, make my heart do strange things. I just can’t get enough of the their nutty artichokey potato-ness, so satisfying and downright earthy. I pitter patter at their smooth savory finish, and will fight you for the caramelized edges. Ugh, I could just stand by the oven and eat a whole tray of those scintillating little stunners. (Wait, I have. But I don’t recommend it — those dudes have some pretty tough-to-break-down skins if ya get what I mean.) So, as a lesson in moderation, mix them with a bunch of other stuff and make it last longer than one stove-side binge session. Hence, salad. I’m SO good at moderation.

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Also I don’t think I used actual gorgonzola in this salad. It was just a generic (read: cheap) bleu (blue? blew?) cheese. So, substitute away as necessary. And let’s take a moment for a General Announcement about substitutions. This is a Salad. As such, you can’t f up “the recipe” too badly. (We used to joke in college that as long as you had a big assortment of stuff in a bowl, it counted as salad. Which led the way to cereal salad, spaghetti salad, cookie salad, etc. We had the right idea.) Because it’s not a real recipe, like for cake, which won’t taste like cake if you leave something out. It’s a suggestion. It’s Salad. It will literally and definitively still be salad no matter what you add or don’t add. So use whatever stinking cheese you want. (Or don’t use it at all, you rebel, you.) End of General Announcement.

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But do let me suggest this specific mix of ingredients cause dang they’re good together.

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one year ago: roasted eggplant and pepper soup with orzo and homemade baked bean and pineapple tacos 

Herby Sunchoke Gorgonzola Salad

a swanky original

¾ lb sunchokes, scrubbed and unpeeled, cut into irregular-sized small chunks (about 2 cups)
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
1 cup wild rice, cooked (or sub brown rice)
½ cup loosely packed parsley leaves, roughly chopped
½ cup loosely packed mint leaves,  roughly chopped
1 cup shoots mix, or use arugula
½ cup red grapes, sliced
2-3 tablespoons gorgonzola, crumbled
s&p

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine sunchokes and olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet; add a generous amount of salt and pepper. Roast for about half an hour, turning occasionally, until browned, softened, and tantalizing. 

Let sunchokes cool down while you mix all remaining ingredients in a big bowl. Add sunchokes. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and serve. 

 

Charred Chipotle Broccoli Tacos

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The Swanky household unfortunately has two extremes for weeknight dinner options. 1) Scour the internet for a perfect recipe, buy every ingredient from the market down the street, and make a big mess in the kitchen. This almost always ends in delicious meals, but isn’t the most practical for everyday eating. The 2) option is, without fail, take-out Thai food.

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I’m very aware I need to incorporate more 1.5s into my life. You know, meals from neither extreme. Dinner you can throw together from whatever is in the fridge, without spending time searching for a recipe or doing a million dishes — ideally, food good enough to encourage others to make too. (And when we get down to it, I have other 1.5s I should incorporate into my life more: just doing yoga on my own without needing to go to a class or following a podcast, or being content to mosey on down the street behind a hand-in-hand couple without internally blasting them for taking up SO MUCH SIDEWALK.)

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I mean, that’s basically why I started this blog in the first place. I needed a space to consolidate recipes, experiments, and ideas from bookmarks on multiple devices, forever-opened tabs on my computer, and recipes torn from magazines. (And, uh, not to rant about slow moving pedestrians.) This is my little online corner of 1.5s and memory joggers and inspiration, regardless of what foodgawker thinks.

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Tacos fill that “1.5” category pretty darn well, and as Daniel craves gringo tacos like his mom made in the ‘80s at least once a month, they make a frequent appearance. He refuses to stray from his beloved ground beef and taco seasoning packet (although the meat this time was locally raised and purchased at the farmers market – small win?). I’ve become pretty good at the art of the non-meat taco. This chipotle broccoli is one of my favorite fillings, with a smoky spicy kicky punch. Also it’s dummy-proof easy: a cutting board, one roasting pan, and 20 minutes later, you’ve got yourself seriously delicious homemade dinner (and don’t have to bat an eyelash over the embarrassing amount of plastic take-out dishes in your recycling this week).

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other swanky veggie tacos: roasted sweet potato, peach, and black bean tacos and grilled pineapple and baked bean tacos

Charred Chipotle Broccoli Tacos

a swanky original
Serves two (or one dinner and adequate leftovers*)

For the filling:
1 head broccoli
2 small sweet yellow or red peppers, sliced into rings (or 1/2 a red or yellow bell pepper, sliced into bite sized pieces)
1 scallion, finely sliced
2 chiles in adobo (from a can*)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Juice from half a lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
s&p

Non-negotiables:
Tortillas (I prefer flour but your call)
Shredded cheese
Diced tomatoes

Optional Toppings:
Cilantro
Lime
Sliced black olives
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Sour cream
Salsa or hot sauce
Avocado (if that’s your kinda thang)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prep broccoli: Cut florets into bite-sized pieces. Peel the stalk to remove toughest part. Cut stalk into thin slices.

Make filling: Combine all ingredients on roasting tray and mix well. Roast for 18 minutes, stirring once, until florets are charred and stalks are tender. Let cool a bit.

Prepare tortillas by placing them directly on the open flame of a gas burner, about 5 seconds per side. (Or char in a hot dry pan.) Pile on broccoli, cheese, tomatoes, and whatever else your heart desires. Serve with rice and beans.

*two notes:

  • If you want to mix it up the next day, the filling was pretty dreamy stir-fried with leftover quinoa and spicy BBQ sauce, with a fried egg on top.
  • I love chiles in adobo sauce. They’re smoky and spicy and add a burst of flavor to just about anything. Once you open a jar, you can keep the rest in a sealed container in the fridge for a very long time and use one pepper at a time as necessary.
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Daniel’s Plate Number 1 (of, uh, 3?). Boy likes his tacos. 

Roasted Chickpea and Kale Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Tahini Sauce

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This post sort of reminds me of those Italian cookies, “brutti ma buoni,” which translates to “ugly but good”. Not like I’ve ever tasted them, as they’re made entirely of ground nuts, but I’ve always liked saying the name to myself when my photography sloppily gets sacrificed and yet I still want to share a recipe. At the end of the day, you’re eating food, not gazing at it, right? And if those foodie Italians can do it, perche non io? (Also, these potatoes themselves are not brutti, it’s just my impatience with a camera makes them appear such. We’re not discussing split pea soup or anything today.)

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True story: We ate these sweet potatoes standing up at our countertop in roughly 2 minutes. We had tickets for a show starting at 7:30; the sweet potatoes came out of the oven at probably 7:20. Luckily, the theater is literally two blocks from our house. We threw all the toppings on, poured on excessive amounts of tahini sauce, took some harried pictures which mostly turned out blurry, and quite literally stuffed these in our faces. We arrived at 7:29, a bit breathless and with tickets extended to prove yes we did indeed belong here too. Despite the totally full house, they hadn’t given our seats away yet. Whew.

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Some words to the wise: a) put your sweet potatoes in the oven at least an hour before you want to eat, and b) when buying tickets online months in advance, it’s always a good idea to double check what time it actually starts sometime during said day. Also c) don’t expect to take beautiful photos when you have approximately 9 minutes to assemble food, document food, consume said food, and sprint two blocks.

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So although I suggest you sit down and enjoy these lovely, healthy taters&toppings as a proper meal, they can be consumed quite quickly, if that’s what is necessary. I make (and adore) each element of this recipe separately; it was only a matter of time before they all got combined into the perfect mouthful. Er, series of mouthfuls, if you have the time. #dontbelikeme. #bruttimabuoni:sweetpotatoedition

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one year ago: simple pasta with smoked scamorza and tomatoes << one of my most-read posts!

Roasted Chickpea and Kale Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Tahini Sauce

a swanky original
Serves 3

3 sweet potatoes
1 can chickpeas, drained, rinsed well, and dried off
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
some drizzles olive oil
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 big clove garlic, minced
2 cups kale, rinsed and in bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons tahini
juice from half a lemon
parsley leaves, roughly chopped
salt

Additional optional toppings: za’atar, hot sauce, Greek yogurt, pomegranate seeds

Sweet Potatoes: Preheat oven to 400F. Poke sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Place directly on oven rack. Bake until easily pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on their size. Let cool slightly.

Chickpeas: On a rimmed baking tray, toss chickpeas with cumin, smoked paprika, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt. Add to oven when there’s about 20 minutes left on the sweet potatoes. Chickpeas will be brown and satisfyingly crunchy when done.

Kale: Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a big sauté pan. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add kale, a pinch of salt, and white wine vinegar. Cook for about 6 minutes, or until kale has turned bright green and wilted a bit. Remove from heat.

Tahini Sauce: Combine tahini, 2 tablespoons water, lemon juice, and a big pinch of salt. Mix until smooth.

To serve, cut sweet potatoes in half. Mash the flesh a bit. Spoon on kale, chickpeas, and tahini sauce. Top with parsley and any additional toppings as desired.

 

As “brutti” as it gets: #UglyFoodPics

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Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts and Tofu

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I loved the food in Azerbaijan (which is where I’ve been for the last month, hence no posts). Granted they had very few vegetarian options, but it was all so flavorful! We regularly had a smoky grilled eggplant spread on freshly baked seeded bread, lentil soup with lemon and piles of fresh herbs, and handfuls of greens cooked in between bread like a flaky quesadilla called qutab. Breakfasts were extravagant affairs, as the hotels we were put up in had unnecessarily but deliciously large buffets every morning, and I’ve never shaken my habit of needing to try everything that looks good. And I didn’t have the same extreme cravings I had in Guatemala, as we had a decent Chinese place around the corner, a drunken encounter with dang good nachos on Valentines’ night, and passable pizza places on every block. Let’s just say, I certainly never went to bed hungry, despite long days of physical theatre trainings and project planning.

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There was just one, tiny, moronic culinary detail that was met by questioning eyes — Hot Sauce. I just attempted asking for it twice — the first time I received a little bowl of sweet Thai chili sauce (not so good with scrambled eggs) and the second time, mustard. One pizza place we went to did have incredibly-spicy pickled peppers as garnish on the table, though. Spicy as a concept is known and (occasionally) appreciated! Just not in sauce form.

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I don’t claim to be a hot sauce fanatic, and in fact until very recently I wouldn’t consider myself a “spicy things” person. I could take the “low-medium” Indian curry level, but I didn’t appreciate it. Pure spice doesn’t add anything. (And I still hold to that — spice for spice’s sake is still just meh.) But when the spice has flavor and that flavor comes from real chilies or really good hot sauce, I am so game. For low-medium and beyond! I am proud to say I no longer find Cholula spicy (although it will always remain a devoted fan to my gateway drug). Our fridge and cabinets are overflowing with bottles purchased at our local store The Heatonist and from the annual hot sauce convention. We always have dried and fresh chiles around to add to any dish.

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This brussel sprout dish, however, was head-sweating, milk-gulping, obscenity-inducing spicy, especially when you got a surprise chunk of red pepper. If you want it less sweat-inducing, reduce the number of chilies, take out all the seeds, and maybe just cut them in half and then remove them at the end. Also, the Spicy Tofu I ordered at our friendly neighborhood Chinese restaurant in Azerbaijan didn’t hold a candle to this. But don’t let that scare you! The flavors are so much stronger than the My Mouth in on Fire feeling. Promise.

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one year ago: butternut tahini mash, mango mezcal margarita, and lemony fregola with artichokes and caramelized onions (I still dream about this…)

Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts and Tofu

Adapted from Bon Appetit
serves 2-3

about 4 cups brussel sprouts (more or less 1.25 pounds)
4 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
½ a 14-oz pkg. of extra-firm tofu
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons sambal oelek (spicy chili paste)
⅓ cup soy sauce
2 ½ tablespoons sugar
6 dried serrano chiles, some seeds removed, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
s&p

Slice tofu in half so you have two thin rectangles. Place in between layers of paper towels, and cover with something heavy to get the excess moisture out. Leave like this for at least half an hour.

Preheat oven to 425F. To prep brussel sprouts, slice off ends and then cut in half. Toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with s&p, and place on rimmed baking sheet. Roast until browned and softened, about 20 minutes, tossing once halfway.

Combine cornstarch with one tablespoon water. Stir to make a slurry. (This will help thicken our sauce later.) Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil on medium-high. Add garlic and ginger and cook for two minutes, stirring frequently, until garlic has lightly browned. Add sambal oelek and cook for two more minutes, continuing to stir frequently. Add soy sauce, sugar, chiles, rice vinegar, and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil and then stir in cornstarch slurry. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until sauce has thickened and reduced a bit. Set aside.

Remove tofu from paper towels cut into cubes about 1 cm by 1 cm. Coat with salt and pepper. Heat a large saute pan to medium–high heat and add 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add tofu cubes and don’t stir; let cook until crispy. Flip to another side of the cube and cook without stirring until crispy. Continue until cubes are crunchy on all sides. This should take about 10 minutes total. Resist the urge to stir!

Combine sprouts, tofu, and sauce in a bowl and mix to distribute evenly. I didn’t use quite all the sauce, since it was very thick and really spicy! Use your judgement. Top individual portions with chopped peanuts and serve with brown rice.

 

Kasha Bowl with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

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It’s always the small things you miss most when traveling. Mealtime independence (and people always respond “poor you, having to eat out three times a day”. But REALLY people, I like scrambling my own eggs and eating cold leftovers for breakfast sometimes!). Having reliable wifi in the bathroom so I can check Facebook while…brushing my teeth. Being able to flush toilet paper directly down the pipes instead of depositing it in the trashcan next to you. Cheese.

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I came home craving every trendy healthy thing in New York, aka things in bowls. Healthy grain bowls, veggie soup bowls, fruit-adorned breakfasts in bowls, tahini-y mushy eggplant in a bowl, lots of brown rice and Asian flavors and roasted veggies and toasted seeds and crunchy raw vegetables and pickled things, preferably in bowls. I am a walking stereotype of instagrammable food culture. #sorrynotsorry.

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Since my NYC return, I’ve met up with many friends who have greeted me with, “Looks like you ate so well on your trip!” I look at them, confused, wondering where they gleaned this information. Because, yes, I literally don’t know how to Not eat well (and by well right now I really just mean plentifully), but I wouldn’t say my time in Guatemala was the epitome of this. They respond that my Instagram food pictures looked amazing (which I just attribute to the beautiful woven tablecloths that adorned every table), what great vegetarian options there were, etc. What they don’t know is that Every Meal I Didn’t Post on Instagram consisted of corn tortillas, overscrambled eggs, mayo-y boiled vegetables, and bean mush. Hence my excitement in returning to the world of Extreme Bowl Culture.

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And hence this very simple lunch I’ve been dreaming about since approximately one week into my trip, or you know, since before Thanksgiving. This meal riffs on a snack I used to assemble for lunch during long shifts at Bakeri, comprised of easy ingredients we always had prepped. I bought my kasha at a Polish deli for very cheap, but I’m sure you can find it in the bulk section at any health store. Kasha is a fancy name for toasted buckwheat, which it’s a bit nuttier than the untoasted variety. Kasha is brown; if it hasn’t been toasted yet it will be green. You can assemble everything beforehand; the salad is just as good warm as it is at room temp. Feel free to add parmesan or feta to de-veganize this. A handful of baby salad greens would also be a nice addition.

one year ago: hot honey pizza with roasted broccoli and red onion and bengali egg curry 

Kasha Bowl with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

serves 1 hungry person at lunch

scant 1 c kasha, uncooked (this will make more than you need; cooked kasha keeps well when covered in the fridge)
2 cups water
1 cup cherry tomatoes
3ish tablespoons olive oil, separated
1 onion, sliced thin
handful of kalamata olives
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
hot sauce if you’re feeling it
s&p

To make buckwheat: Bring water to a boil. Add kasha. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Strain.

To roast tomatoes: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place tomatoes on a baking pan and cover with a healthy drizzle of olive oil, plus s&p. Roast for 12 minutes, stirring halfway through. Tomatoes will be crinkly, puckered, juicy, and blistered when done. Mmm.

To “caramelize” onion: I am no expert on this, as I always get impatient and try to turn up the heat. But do as I say, not as I do: Heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet on medium heat. Add onions and a big pinch of salt. Cook on medium-low at the highest, stirring occasionally, for EVER, or until tender and sweet. Or don’t, turn the heat up, and embrace the charred onion bits, just like me.🙂

To assemble: Mix together about ½ cup cooked kasha (or more) (or less), cooked tomatoes, caramelized onions, and olives in a BOWL (or a platter first cause it’s pretty). Mix together about 1 tablespoon olive oil and the balsamic vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over salad. Add hot sauce if you want a kick. Commence eating.

 

Mayan Quichon de Verduras, Take 1

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Our cooking classes at PLQ are taught by a friendly, explosive, and hilarious lady named Oti. She is friends with my host family, and has occasionally shown up at lunch time, bearing fruits or baked goods. She is well-liked by all, and, it seems to me, a bit of a gossipy yenta. She likes to tell stories in her incredibly fast Spanish, complete with imitations and reenactments. She turned to me after one of them and asked if I understood. (I had gotten maybe 30%.) She began the story again, in slower Spanish, but as the story progressed and she got excited, her Spanish continued to speed up. Maybe that time around I got 50%. Her upbeat attitude extends to her class, where she spends half an hour “while the chiles soak” telling us about her family drama and her visiting grandson and naughtily suggesting I need a Guatemalan boyfriend in addition to my American one. She’s an uplifting presence and I’m always glad when our paths cross.

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I’m daily thrilled by the generosity and kindness of the people I meet here. People are so willing to strike up a conversation! Yesterday, for example, I went on a trip to Laguna Chicabal — a sacred Mayan lake set in the crater of an old volcano. On the microbus on the way there, the guy next to us began to ask, in slow and measured Spanish, about where we were going, where we were staying, our jobs, language skills, etc. He was eager to figure out who the four gringa ladies in the back of the bus were and excited to tell us a bit about himself too. (I think he’s a traveling alternative medicine salesman who speaks Spanish and Mayan Mam but that job part was a bit tricky to understand.) Right before we got off, he asked if I had “the face” — we realized after a moment he meant FaceBOOK and wanted to be friends, but at that point it was too late to exchange any info (no sleep lost). I’ve had similar conversations with cafe employees, guys I’ve salsa danced with, and other people waiting for their tostadas at the stalls in the market. It’s a fun, informal way to practice Spanish, although in some cases I fear the conversation is initiated because they’re vying for that nonexistent, elusive position of Guatemalan boyfriend. Lo siento, amigos. 

IMG_3118IMG_3125The recipe below is written exactly how Oti (with our ample slicing and dicing assistance) made it for our graduation dinner last week. No tweaks or improvements. It was certainly tasty — the sauce was good enough to eat with a spoon and I had a moment of annoyance that there were so many vegetarians this week and so not enough for seconds. It’s deep and musky and chile-heavy, with a slight spiciness cut by the tomatoes. I love that this is an extremely old and simple(ish) Mayan recipe. People have been making some form of quichon, which is only found in Quetzaltenango (a brief internet search showed surprisingly little internet evidence of this dish) for centuries (albeit with chicken). But I have some ideas about how I’ll update this recipe to give it just a bit more varied flavor — the chiles really do dominate — roasting the veggies instead of boiling, adding more garlic and perhaps a second type of chile, thickening the stew with something other than white bread mush, adding something green. But alas these will have to wait until the day of kitchen return. In the meantime, it will be vale la pena (worth it) to bring the smells and techniques of the Mayans into your kitchen, although I’m pretty sure they didn’t process white bread in a blender in the pre-Spaniard period. See Notes below recipe for ingredient tips.

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one year ago: Buttermints and Mushroom, Olive, and Farro Stuffed Acorn Squash

more from Oti and Guatemala: Rellenitos de Plátano

Traditional Mayan Quichon de Verduras

feeds 4-6

4 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
6 small potatoes, peeled and in bite-sized chunks
1 or 2 guisquil (aka chayote – or use sweet potato or any other squash)
*5 dried paso chiles (aka ancho chile) – can find in a Mexican grocery store
6 cloves of garlic
1 large or 2 small onions, cut in strips
12 small plum tomatoes
*6 pimientos gourds (aka big pepper) 
*8-ish slices of pan frances
salt

Boil the carrots, potatoes, and guisquil in ample water until tender. Strain and reserve the water. Now you have veggie broth!

Meanwhile, toast up your spices. We used a comal, or a thin tortilla grill that you put right on the flame of your stove, but a regular cast-iron or ribbed skillet would work just as well (and you could probably roast them in the oven too). Heat the pan up nice and high, and then toast the chiles, garlic, onion, tomatoes, and black pepper until they have char marks on all sides. Turn frequently. Depending on the size of your pan, do this in batches so you don’t crowd the pan. The black pepper balls only need a minute or so.

Next, soak the chiles in plenty of warm water until soft and easily pliable, about ten minutes. Remove and discard the seeds and inner membranes of the chiles. Tear each chile into 2-4 pieces. Meanwhile, tear bread into small pieces; put in a bowl with a bit of warm water. Mush with your fingers until it reaches a paste-like consistency. Only use enough water to make it like — the only comparison I can think of is matzah ball soup dough. Not so wet.

Next, we blend! First add to your blender the chiles and a bit of the veg broth from earlier. Blend until totally smooth. Add to boiled vegetables. Next, add the grilled onions, tomatoes, garlic, and black pepper with more broth. Blend until smooth and add to veggies. Finally, add the watery bread paste and blend til smooth, adding to veggies when done. Add more salt than you think you need and stir well.

Return vegetables to heat and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes to thicken. Feel free to add more bread or more broth to reach your desired consistency. Our final product was like a thick Indian-style curry. Serve with tortillas and/or rice.

*Ingredients Notes

Chile paso is more commonly called the ancho chile in other parts of Central America. They’re dark brown in color and fairly large — more wide than skinny and long. As Oti says, “Solo pica un poco” — they’re a pretty mild pepper with a very small kick at the end. They’re commonly used throughout Mexico and could be easily found at a Mexican or international market.

Pimiento Gordo is a type of black pepper. These black orbs are slightly larger than our regular pimiento negro (normal black pepper) and have a slightly different flavor. I asked Oti if you could use regular black pepper and she basically said absolutely not, they give a completely different flavor to the final dish. But I don’t think the Mayans would care too much if you gave it a try…

Re pan francés: I was looking through a typical Guatemalan cookbook and was surprised many recipes included pan frances as a thickener for sauces. And indeed, Oti used a whole bag of day-old stale bread between this and the meaty-version (if you’re curious — replace the veggies with boiled chicken parts and voila). The breads she used were about three inches long and an inch wide, and very airy. This was not a dense delicious baguette, it was more akin to Wonder Bread. The bread lends no flavor to the dish, only texture. I’m going to experiment with other options when I have my kitchen back — I think corn starch, peanut butter, or a simple roux could all do the trick without all the unnecessary white bread starches.

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From the veggie-loaded rice we made — no recipe, just posting cause I’m impressed by our dicing skills with that sorry excuse for a knife.