Apple Cheddar Quinoa Cakes

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Turns out starting a new job isn’t easy. I mean first of all, you have to figure out how to do that thing you’ve been hired to do. In this case for me that includes getting to know 20 different artists on our Outreach play and workshop roster, our 4 main booking contacts throughout the various NYC library systems, and learn everyone’s unique way of working. It also means visiting as many of New York City’s libraries as I can, as how are you supposed to figure out what programs you want to book if you haven’t met who’s in your audience? (Also in this case it includes learning how to run a summer camp, but that’s June-Ilanna’s problem. And if you happen to be any of my camper’s parents… just kidding… your children are in adept and capable hands and I’ll stop writing now.)

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And there’s all that other stuff too, like interpersonal stuff (Is Coworker X laughing at me or with me? How much should I acknowledge Colleague Y’s rambly, rhetorical-but-not-really questions?), or who do you ask about business cards (Turns out no one — I have to design, order them, and get reimbursed (not normal, right?)), or what to do when the person before you made a mistake that it’s up to you to fix (Don’t worry, if you need any magicians in NYC I have compiled a whole list of them after a stressful and last-minute booking mix-up last week). Every day poses its own series of challenges.

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Today I went to go see my recently obtained magician do his show at a small library branch in Staten Island. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go — it’s far, you have to take the ferry, it was a beautiful Saturday, I had to take three modes of transportation, etc, etc. I could’ve come up with any number of excuses but I just did it and ya know? It wasn’t actually that far, the ferry was delightful on this sunny day, and the library was easy to find. The branch was welcoming, colorful, and packed with kids. The magician was wonderfully entertaining, bringing a huge smile to my face as I watched both him and his eager fans. The shock and awe on their faces as he made a quarter fly or made a bottle of ketchup disappear was the highlight of my week. I think this job is going to be okay.

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Oh god, and here I am again with no transition to be found. This snack or brunch has nothing to do with magicians, or a new job, or being happily surprised by a ferry ride. It’s just good.  Apple and cheddar are a favorite combination around here, if by “around here” we mean with me, because everyone else I surround myself with seems turned off by this underappreciated pairing. Don’t be like them. Fry yourself up some of these simple sweet&savory bites, eat them on the plate you brought back from Japan which makes you happy, and don’t listen to the naysayers. (At work OR at home. Boom. A tidy, relevant wrap-up.)

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one year ago(ish): Kung Pao Brussel sprouts and tofu 
two years ago: roasted pepper and eggplant soup with orzo

Apple Cheddar Quinoa Cakes

a Swanky original
(makes 9ish small cakes, good for two for brunch with salad)

It’s best to use the mixture the day you make it. I put some in the fridge and fried the cakes a day or two later — still tasted delicious but they didn’t hold together as well. Also a note on sauce — I tried them with a quick chipotle mayo but it was too overpowering, and I wouldn’t recommend the hot sauce route. A drizzle of honey was nice, as was a dollop of honey mustard. Maybe Greek yogurt would be a nice touch? Let me know if you try it.

½ a red apple (I use Fuji)
1 cup cooked quinoa
⅓ cup cheddar, shredded
⅓ cup panko
1 egg
1 scallion, minced
s&p to taste
Olive oil
Honey to serve (or see note, above)

First, grate your apple. Skin-on is fine. Use the biggest holes on your box grater. Lots of liquid will be pressed out — get rid of this excess liquid but no need to squeeze apple strands; some liquid is okay. Combine apples and all other ingredients except olive oil in a big bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon to combine.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add a healthy drizzle of olive oil — enough to coat the bottom of the pan but no extra (we’re not making latkes here). Spread oil around with a flexible spatula to ensure it covers the whole surface.

Using your hands, scoop up quinoa-apple mixture. I like a big cookie-sized amount — about 1/4 cup. Press quinoa mixture into a fat disk, and carefully put into the pan. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until browned, on each side. Quinoa will become crunchy, cheese pockets will ooze, and apple will intermingle.

Serve with a side salad and a drizzle of honey for a peeerfect brunch.

 

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Soy-Dashi Simmered Kabocha Squash (Kabocha No Nimono)

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One of my favorite parts about living in New York City is strolling the streets, iced tea in hand, scanning new restaurant menus, popping into little stores, and debating if I should actually buy something this time around. I especially love little delis and specialty grocery stores that cater to another country’s staples. Every time I’m around St. Marks Place in Alphabet City, I have to pick up a bag of my beloved Bamba (peanut butter cheetoh-like snacks!) at the Israeli store Holyland Market (and then force whoever I’m with to share). And when on 1st Ave, I without-fail pick up a bag of the deep-fried curly-q cumin seed crackers I fell in love with in Delhi at the little store underneath the two competing Christmas light Indian restaurants (y’all New Yorkers know what I’m talking about, right?).

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Another favorite is a stroll thru Sunrise Mart, although I don’t yet have a go-to snack in this Japanese wonderland. Usually I get cheap noodles, a rice ball, or something mochi-related. This time around, I was curious about the instant dashi soup mixes. Dashi is soup base, made from simmering kombu (a thick kind of seaweed) with bonito fish flakes. I’ve never made my own, but I’ve long thought it a great option for my pescatarian lifestyle.

So I bought this!

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A google search once I was home told me I got the no MSG brand (sweet!) and that everyone disagreed about how much soup powder you’re supposed to use per cup of boiling water. I ended up using almost one of the pouches, which was about a  teaspoon and a half, with my two cups of boiling water. The powder, or really it was more like tiny pellets, dissolved immediately. A little fishy but fairly subtle. I deem this a nice (and cheap!) flavorful base for soups or simmered veggies like this.

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Also, I am obviously no expert on Japanese food — my recipe was based on reading about 12 similar ones online. My squash definitely fell apart more than I had hoped for but we loved the flavor and scarfed it down regardless. It can be served warm or cold, but I greatly prefer the warmed up version. (And I’ll update you all in a couple months about what this dish is really like in Japan after my trip in November!)

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one year ago (okay fine, last August): maple blueberry beets with balsamic and mint
two years ago: 
roasted radish, blistered pepper, and olive pizza

Soy-Dashi Simmered Kabocha Squash (Kabocha No Nimono)

Adapted primarily from pickled plum 

½ a kabocha squash (abt 1.25 lbs)
2 c dashi (2 cups water plus 1 packet seasoning) (or sub veg broth)
½ tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin (though I believe you can substitute sake)

First, prep your squash. Peel some of the skin off (with a paring knife or powerful peeler). It’s fine to eat it, but peeling just some gives a nice texture change. Cut squash into roughly 1-inch cubes (more or less bite-sized).

Next, get out a heavy saucepan you have a lid for. If making dashi, bring water to a boil; add seasoning packet and stir to dissolve. Add squash pieces and return to a boil. If not making dashi, bring veg broth and squash to a boil.  Turn temperature to a slow simmer and cover pan halfway. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add sugar, soy sauce, and mirin and continue simmering for another 10 minutes, uncovered. At this point, squash should be very tender, but hopefully not falling apart. If you’d like a more syrupy sauce, remove squash pieces and continue simmering dashi mixture until it thickens, 3-5 more minutes.

Serve with rice or as a side to any Japanese-style dish. (We ate it with an udon-miso-tofu-mushroom soupy situation. Yum!)

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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. 

 

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

a Swanky original
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 gordos (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.

Guatemalan Rellenitos de Plátano

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…aka mashed plantains stuffed with slightly sweetened black bean paste, deep fried until caramelized and satisfyingly crunchy. The jury is out on when you’re supposed to eat this delicacy–I was served it at dinner with scrambled eggs and black beans, but felt it may be more appropriate for dessert.

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For those of you who have, in a passing moment, considered the swanky sweet potato and contemplated the absence of recipes lately, I supposed it’s only polite to let you know — I’m in Guatemala! Two months sans kitchen, reliable internet, or good showers. (My apologies if the third part is of no importance to you.) I’ll have five weeks of intensive Spanish lessons and living in a home with an incredibly lovely family but where I’m not exactly welcomed in the kitchen. As decadent as it is to be given three meals a day without needing to wash a single dish, I miss autonomy. I love mornings experimenting with the perfect scrambled eggs, or daydreaming about what to make for dinner during the late afternoon stretch. I miss being inspired by whatever appears in my CSA, at the farmers’ market, or perusing my favorite blogs for ideas. It’s a funny feeling never knowing what to expect at a meal — when is the last time you had so little say in what you ate? For me, it was probably early high school at summer camp. Strange. (Don’t get me wrong, dear reader, I am Loving my time here! Every day presents a new aspect of the regional culture or the immense natural beauty or the fraught political atmosphere. My Spanish gets stronger daily, and I’m meeting curious new minds, both local and the traveler-variety.)

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However when the opportunity presented itself to take a cooking class last Friday, I jumped at the chance! Turns out “cooking class” was a subtle ploy to have students help make the traditional dinner we were to be served that night at the weekly graduation festivities, but I jumped on board just the same. The above-mentioned rellenitos were a great hands-on, tactile project. I definitely recommend making these with kids—you treat the plantains like play-do! All four of us attending the “class” certainly took some frustrations out on these fried pillows of plantain-goodness. There isn’t much of a recipe for these love bundles, so feel free to adapt as you see fit. Please forgive this bare bones recipes. It is not sophisticated (and in fact I use the word “mush”), but it combines two important Guatemalan staples and is worth the effort.

 

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The first batch of the little buggers… this is me patiently waiting the requisite minute so I don’t completely burn my face off.

Note: Guatemalans are super into pre-cooked refried black beans. You can get them at every grocery store and cornerside tienda in an astonishing variety of package shapes and cooking-methods (boil in a bag! microwave! grill!). The consistency is very paste-like — I believe the beans have already been cooked with spices and oil and then blended. I’d try this recipe with refried beans out of a can, or make your own bean mush with a some cooked black beans, savory spices, and a blender. You don’t need so much for the recipe though, so make sure you choose something where you can use the leftovers.

Additional Note: In the spirit of “seize the day” and trying to soak in my Guatemalan environment, these photos are unedited and straight from my phone. Apologies to anyone who may be offended by this.

Just a smattering of the pre-cooked bean options available at your local Guatemalan supermarket… Mmm mmm, look at those silky black beauties.

one year ago: honey and cinnamon apples, cheesy bulgur risotto with broccoli, and Indian-spiced cabbage and onions

Rellenitos de Plátano

as remembered from my PLQ cooking class

medium-ripe plantains (no black spots but not green)
black bean mush of choice (see note)
ground cinnamon
sugar
flour to coat
oil to fry
powdered sugar (optional)

Peel plantains and boil in a big vat of water. When they’re very soft, scoop out with a slotted spoon onto plates. Use forks to mash the plantains into a paste like consistency. Set aside.

Place bean mush in a bowl. Add cinnamon and sugar to taste. You want a slightly sweet final product, not an approximation of Asian-style red bean paste. For the giant vat of plantains we used, we probably added about 1 t cinnamon and a bit more sugar. Taste as you go.

Take a small handful of plantain “dough” and flatten it into a patty or pancake a bit bigger than the palm of your hand. The patty should be about a centimeter thick, maybe a bit less. Scoop 1/2 tablespoon or so of bean mixture into the center of plantain patty. Fold sides up and around bean paste and fold ends in, forming a cylinder-esque bundle about two inches long. Coat generously in flour by rolling on a plate with a shallow layer of flour and using your hands to pat it gently in. Wash your hands throughout the process as necessary.

In a deep frying pan, bring about a half-inch of oil to a simmer. Gently add rellenitos and fry until golden brown. Don’t overcrowd the pan. I would try about 10 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. I ate these as part of a dinner, but if you want them for dessert, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve warm.

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From yesterday’s hike up Volcan Santa Maria. We started climbing in the dark at 1 am and made it to the top (above the clouds!) for a chilly and incredible sunrise.

 

Butternut and Black Bean Stuffed Poblanos with Pepita Crema

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Every morning Daniel asks the same questions — “How’d you sleep?”, followed by “any dreams?” If I say yes, the next question is “exciting dreams or Ilanna dreams?”

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“Ilanna dreams” meaning those completely mundane dreams you confuse with real life upon waking up — “Oh I got three emails from my college lab partner about throwing a party for…wait…that was a dream.” or “I went to our usual coffee place but the waitress from the Thai place was the barist…. hm, nope, dream.” They’re always Really boring. I feel like I’ve failed my creative theater brethren with my dreamlife.

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The night after I made these peppers, I had the most vivid dreams I’ve had in months. One involved me walking around a pool in an Aladdin-esque Saudi Arabia in a bikini while everyone around me was fully covered. It felt like the set of Mad Men, complete with 60s music and the surreal sensation that no one was paying attention to me but everyone was surreptitiously following my every move. There may have been a green screen involved? After my lap around the pool I was given an ice cold lemonade and pile of skirts and scarves by my friend Nina and her boyfriend, who were very concerned for my modesty.

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I also dreamt my intern lived in a lavish Victorian mansion with high ceilings near Washington Square, and overnight crafted gigantic wings to be worn in the Halloween parade. Which is sorta what she’s supposed to be doing right now honestly, but in the dream everything was bigger and glitzier and momentous. And I doubt her dorm room resembles a mansion. ….but now that I’m writing this down it sounds quite dull. A true Ilanna dream after all. Damn, thought I had reached new dreamheights.

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Someone should try these peppers and let me know if the dreams (fine, one dream) were (was?) a fluke. Also because this pepita crema is so creamy, despite not having any actual cream! That alone is worth a try. And don’t overlook that these peppers contain all my favorite parts of bastardized Mexican food (see also: gringa-Yankee-vegetarian tacos): spice, cheese, roasted orange vegetables, etc. Mmm.

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one year ago: sweet sesame cauliflower, snow pea, and kale salad 

Butternut and Black Bean Stuffed Poblanos with Pepita Crema

adapted from simply healthy family and the bojon gourmet

Don’t want to make pepita crema? a) you’re crazy but b) try instead with a hot-ish sauce like my new favorite or perhaps whip up a batch of tomatillo peach salsa 

4 poblano peppers (or 3 poblanos and 1 normal green pepper if your CSA provided an odd number…)
½ T olive oil
½ an onion, diced
1 heaping cup butternut squash, in small cubes
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup cooked quinoa
1 T creamy goat cheese
1 c Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, shredded
cilantro, roughly chopped
pepita crema** (recipe below)
**to make crema, you must soak your pepitas in advance! Anywhere from 4-12 hours. Do it in the morning when you want to make this for dinner!

Turn on your broiler as high as it will go. Place poblanos in a cast iron skillet and stick under broiler. Roast for 8 minutes. Take them out of the oven and carefully flip peppers over with tongs. Roast them for another 8 minutes. At this point, skin should be slightly blackened and puckering. Stick back under broiler if more time is needed, and don’t worry if skin gets pretty darn charred. It just adds flavor! (If you’re using regular green peppers, this will take at least twice as long.) Place directly into an ice bath, and turn oven to 450 degrees.

In the meantime, make your filling. Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Cook onion and squash for 7-9 minutes, until onions are translucent and squash has begun to soften. Add corn, beans, and quinoa. Mix and take off heat. Add goat cheese and mix until just combined. (This recipe makes way more filling than necessary — feel free to make more poblanos or just cook the filling a bit longer and eat as a salad, or fried egg accompaniment, or inside a quesadilla, etc…)

Remove skin from peppers carefully. Cut a small slit in each and remove seeds, either by shaking them gently in the ice bath or carefully cutting the inner core out. Don’t worry if you accidentally puncture the peppers as long as they’re mostly in tact. Scoop filling into peppers, reshaping as necessary. Place them in a baking dish or back into the cast iron. Cook at 450 for 10-12 minutes, or until squash are tender. Cover with Monterey Jack and return to oven. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, until cheese is totally melted.

To plate, make a pool of crema on a plate. Place poblano atop crema and sprinkle with cilantro.

To make Pepita Crema:

(makes more than you’ll need…)

½ c pepitas (pumpkin seeds), soaked for 4-12 hrs
1 scant t cumin seeds, toasted
1 lime, juiced
½ clove garlic, roughly chopped
¼ t fine sea salt
⅓ c water

Combine everything in blender. Blend for 3-5 minutes, scraping down sides as needed, until crema thickens. Don’t doubt it; just keep blending! It really works!

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two-in-one! Extra filling makes a great egg accompaniment the next day.

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carnivore adds slow-cooked shredded chicken to his (but it’s totally unnecessary!)

Sweet&Spicy Chinese-ish Eggplant and Cubanelle Peppers

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My love affair with all food Asian goes far and deep. The night I graduated from high school we went to Minado, an enormous and yet high-quality all-you-can-eat sushi and seafood buffet that’s always packed to the gills (ha). I have brought three boyfriends there, who have all had to gain the stamp of Minado Success before being fully accepted into the family.  My parents bonded over late-night dinners in college at Moon Villa in Boston’s Chinatown. We ate it MINIMUM once a week growing up, and had a lovely relationship with Vanilla, the hostess at our favorite local joint. We are part of the ranks of Jews who consume their beloved sesame chicken and wonton soup on Christmas, albeit in a tiny town in the White Mountains, apres-ski. Heck, my Dad even had Chinese food at his Bar Mitzvah. It runs deep in the veins.

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What I’ve discovered about New York Chinese food is that when it’s good, it’s very good. And when it’s bad, it’s AWFUL. In the suburbs, all Chinese food is fine. It’s not authentic, but you don’t expect it to be. It’s tasty and reliable versions of the same sort of food, usually for cheap, and always plentiful. Here, it’s a different story. You can either go to Chinatown and go to a specific regional restaurant and get fantastic food, or you can go to the take-out joint on the corner and have belly aches all night. Where is the suburban happy medium?! Why do literally all Brooklyn Chinese restaurants suffer from the everything-tastes-like-oil-and-uses-the-same-gloopy-sauce syndrome? It’s so disappointing, time after time. Thank goodness we have Thai, Japanese, Korean (and Turkish, Italian, Israeli, etc) aplenty to fill the void, and Chinatown is just one quick train stop away. On all other nights, there’s bastardized homemade “Chinese-ish” food.

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This pepper and eggplant dish is a freaking delicious version of above mentioned bastardized Chinese. It’s probably not something you’d ever get served in Chinatown but if I ate it at your house I’d be ecstatic. It’s salty and sweet and spicy and oily (but not too much) and crunchy and easy, too! Don’t you dare skimp on the fried garlic&peanut topping, or you’ll have serious regrets. Serve with brown rice and never suffer through gloopy mushrooms over overcooked and oil-shimmering lo mein again. Amen.

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one year ago: spicy micheladas for drowning your autumn-relates woes and kabocha toasts with caramelized onion-maple jam to celebrate them

Sweet&Spicy Chinese-ish Eggplant and Cubanelle Peppers

adapted from taste with the eyes 

2-4 T canola oil
1 small eggplant, cut into small cubes
2 cubanelle peppers (I had them around from the CSA but feel free to use a handful of shishitos or plain old green bell pepper), cut into thin strips
salt
1.5 T soy sauce
1 T rice vinegar
1 heaping t toasted sesame oil
1 scant T sugar
1 t cornstarch
1 t red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, sliced as thin as possible
¼ c peanuts, roughly chopped

Heat two medium-sized pans. Add a tablespoon of oil to each. Add pepper strips to one and eggplant cubes to the other. Cook peppers on medium-high heat for 7 minutes, stirring frequently, until blistered and softened. Sprinkle with salt when done and set aside. Cook eggplant on medium heat for 9-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown. Add more oil to eggplants if necessary, as they like to suck it all in immediately.

Meanwhile, make your sauce by combining soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, cornstarch, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl and mixing. Set aside.

When eggplant is done, pour in the sauce. Cook for two minutes on medium high heat until it smells amazing. Add peppers and cook for about five minutes on lowish heat to let all flavors come together.

While that cooks, heat a small pan to medium high heat. Add 2 t canola oil. Add garlic slices and saute, stirring frequently, until garlic is nutty and golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and coat with salt.

Top individual portions of eggplant and peppers with fried garlic and chopped peanuts. Serve with brown rice. Repeat until you wonder where the food has gone…

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Tomatillo and Peach Salsa (& a wedding cake!)

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The past two weeks have been filled with a whole lotta love. I had the joyous fortune to witness the marriages of two sets of friends over the past two weeks, and am full to the brim with good feelings and joie de vivre. Not only am I overjoyed at the unions of all these lovely people who I am lucky to have in my life, I am refreshed and renewed by people of all kinds. So often, I go through my day with a stern countenance, wary of strangers, stingy with my smiles. In the past two weeks, I have had my mind expanded and my life momentarily affected by new no-longer strangers from around the world. My friends have the best friends.

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I love that I was able to rehearse and perform a Bollywood dance at Nandita and Alex’s wedding with 20 other recruited newbie dancers. (Also, turns out Daniel has some mad Bollywood skillz…) I can say pretty confidently we Rocked that dance, and the brides beamed and I felt instantaneous camaraderie with my “Zor Ka Jhatka” team. And then, when the reception was over, we held a little after party at our apartment with the 85 beers gifted to us by the caterers and three cabs-full of new friends.

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And then this weekend, after months of planning and taste tests and one bad dream involving emergency outsourced avocado curd (ew), my friend Leah and I made a wedding cake!!!! It was a giant labor of love, and by giant I mean pretty freaking giant — I think the whole thing used at least 40 sticks of butter, multiple bags of sugar, 75 eggs, and two big bags of lemons. The final monster was a vanilla cake from Rose’s The Cake Bible, with Ina’s lemon curd, Martha’s raspberry curd, Sweetapolita’s vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream, and hand-holding from Deb. (It takes a village…) The thing itself was transported in many boxes with the help of a kind boyfriend and amused cab driver, and then hastily stacked and decorated amidst ladders and lanterns being hung up, and caterers running around, and someone forgetting their pants and needing to run home half an hour before the wedding started. And yet, it came together beautifully and tastily too. So many strangers wanted to talk about the cake — to say how lovely it was (oh shucks), or about their own baking experiences, or to chat about my (nonexistent) professional baking career.

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Weddings are fun. I love being surrounded by people who have traveled far and wide to share in love. To celebrate togetherness. I like that these weddings happened with the change of the season — a gentle farewell to what was and an excited eye cast towards the future.

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In that light, perhaps you want to make salsa? With roasted tomatillos and the last of summer peaches? This salsa is a great picnic accompaniment and really, much easier than a wedding cake. But it’ll go fast and make people in awe of you anyway because most people just don’t understand how easy it is to make your own dang salsa.

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Daniel’s spicy spicy red pepper salsa recipe to come some day… we’ll wait for me to build my heat tolerance just a bit more.

one year ago: roasted radish, blistered pepper, and olive pizza

Tomatillo and Peach Salsa

This is a more straightforward vessel for chips than my previously-posted mango black bean “salad-alsa”. Might be harder to eat this with a spoon, but don’t let me stop you from trying. Adapted from macheesmo.com. 

1 lb tomatillos
2  big peaches
1 serrano or jalapeno pepper
1 big clove garlic, minced
½ c cilantro, chopped
1-2 T onion, finely chopped
1 lime
s&p

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove husks from tomatillos and cut in half. Place on a baking tray, cut-side up. Roast for 20 minutes.

Set a small pan on medium-high heat. Add serrano pepper, turning every minute or so until lightly charred on all sides. Set aside.

Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil. With a small sharp knife, score the bottom of each peach with a small “x”. Boil peaches for one minute. Drain and let cool. Peel peaches with your fingers, starting from the “x”. You will get juicy and messy! Lick your fingers (and then wash your hands). Cut peaches into small bite-sized pieces and place into a medium-sized bowl. Discard (or eat) skins.

In a food processor, combine tomatillos and the serrano pepper. Pulse until there are no pieces remaining, and mixture is homogeneous and slightly syrupy. Add tomatillos to peach bowl, along with the garlic, cilantro, onion, and juice of a lime. Season to taste with s&p.

So Proud!!

So Proud!!