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. 

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!)

Blueberry Lemon Buttermilk Cake with Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

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You know, I’ve always been averse to baking professionally because, well, I’ve already tried to turn one of my passions into a career and I’m not sure I’m the better for it (sarcastic thanks to high school theater teachers who gave me too much encouragement).  Also I like having a stress reliever which doesn’t keep me up at night, memorizing lines and reevaluating life choices. AND which tastes delicious and makes people happy. Seriously, everyone likes being made a cake. Not everyone likes sitting through experimental clowning meditations on life and Brecht.

Daniel had a birthday and so of course I made a cake (also we’re going to a knife skills class today that I couldn’t be more excited about!). Mmm. The flavor combination came from a blueberry-ginger-almond biscotti we were selling at work and that everyone raved about. But alas, as I am almond-digesting deficient, I had to translate the flavor combo to an acceptable alternative. And hence was born the blueberry (and lemon) buttermilk cake with ginger (cream cheese) frosting. The parts in parenthesis were not part of the original plan but I’m glad they finagled their way in to the final picture.

I did no innovating here, just combined recipes scourged from across the vast blogosphere. Thank you, baking blog ladies, for creating such lovely recipes! I got the layer cake recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction (it stayed moist for DAYS!), and the fresh ginger frosting from blahnik baker.  No need for me to post their already-perfect recipes, but I urge you to check them out and then combine them! And then cover the result with crystallized ginger and invite a bunch of friends over.

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And while I’m at it, here’s the lovely cake I made myself for my birthday last August — Joy the Baker’s oreo-strawberry bonanza piled high with slightly-too-sweet oreo buttercream frosting. Everyone needs cake on their birthdays, even (especially) if you make it yourself. Even my dentist agrees, who gave me a slice of cake after my 9 am birthday dental session! I think he felt really, really bad.

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I think I’ll stay an amateur cake maker for now, but I have a pretty good photo collection going on if I change my mind someday, right??