Watercress Salad with Pine Nuts
Serves 4 to 6

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a nice holiday season. I haven’t posted in a while because of the holidays and other things in life getting in the way. But I guarantee you’re going to love this exquisite and sophisticated salad.

This recipe is from Cocina de la Familia, by Marilyn Tausend, a collection of interesting and sophisticated recipes from Mexican-American home kitchens. She says that watercress is a common and well-loved salad green in Mexico and doesn’t understand why it isn’t more popular in the United States. I have added my own twist to this recipe, as usual.

Although pine nuts are very expensive per pound, remember that you can significantly reduce costs by buying only as much as you need at a time from the bulk foods bins at natural foods stores and upscale markets. Also, a lot of pine nuts come from China and sometimes Russia, but if you look around, you can find some grown in the United States. It’s always better to buy local (or as local as you can) because climate change is here, and local foods mean less fossil fuel is consumed in getting the food to stores.

Enjoy this nutritious and delicious salad. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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The Dressing
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 clove garlic, finely minced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

The Salad
2 bunches watercress
3 white Belgian endive
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

Whisk the vinegar, salt and pepper, garlic and olive oil in a bowl. Set aside.

To toast the nuts, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, place the nuts on a baking sheet, and toast for about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.

Remove watercress leaves from the thick stems and rinse. Pat the leaves dry gently so not to bruise or crush them. Slice the endives diagonally, and discard the cores. Combine the watercress and endive in a salad bowl.

Right before serving, pour the dressing over the salad and sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and pine nuts.

Refried Beans with Chorizo
Makes 4 to 6 servings

The other day I was over at my mother’s house thumbing through an old copy of Saveur magazine, when I saw an article by Richard Rodriguez, one of my all-time favorite writers. Richard Rodriguez wrote Hunger of Memory, a poetic and beautiful memoir of his education from elementary school through graduate studies at UC Berkeley. Hunger of Memory is also an account of the intimacy and closeness of his family life and how his education ended up separating him from his Mexican immigrant parents. I loved his lyrical writing so much, I read it twice.

The Saveur article was about refried beans and chorizo, a dish his father used to make. It was a fixture in the Rodriguez home, and I am thrilled to feature it on my blog.

Many years ago, I went to hear Richard speak at Grace Cathedral, whose Forum series features various artists and writers in conversation. Afterwards, the public could meet and talk with him. Besides Hunger of Memory, I was a big fan of his video essays on the PBS NewsHour. I went up to meet him, so nervous I was literally shaking in my shoes and trying hard not to show it. To this day, I don’t know why. I told him he had beautiful thoughts, and he was very nice.

This recipe is from that 2010 issue of Saveur; it is not from Richard’s family. But as usual, I have changed a few things. For health and environmental reasons, I have substituted olive oil for lard. Chorizo is usually made with pork, but there are also chicken and soy versions. I tested the recipe using both precooked chicken and soy chorizo. The recipe made with soy chorizo had a less pungent taste and a different texture, but it was absolutely delicious. And the beans were even better the next day! Whatever chorizo you use, you’ll be going back for seconds; I promise.

In these beans, Richard Rodriguez said, “I tasted my father.” I think what he meant was he tasted home.

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3 cups dried pinto beans
6 ounces fresh chorizo, casings removed and cut into small pieces
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil for cooking chorizo
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

Place beans in a large pot with 12 cups of water. Bring water to a boil and then reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook beans for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until beans are very tender. Check the pot a time or two during cooking to make sure all the water hasn’t boiled off. Add more water if necessary. When beans are done, set aside 3 cups of cooking water and drain. Return beans to pot.

While the beans are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add precooked chicken or soy chorizo and cook until browned, about 3 minutes. (Note: if using uncooked pork chorizo, use medium-high heat, break up chorizo into small pieces, and cook for 6 to 8 minutes.) Set aside.

Mash beans in pot with a potato masher while adding olive oil. Add half the chorizo. Heat beans on medium and add 2 cups of reserved cooking water (add more water, if you prefer). Stir frequently, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve beans hot with remaining chorizo and chopped cilantro.

Potato Quesadillas
Makes 4 quesadillas

The Biblical saying that there is nothing new under the sun is eternally true. In life and in cooking. The same is true with trying to come up with new and different recipes; we sometimes end up with new takes on old standards, like quesadillas.

At first glance, potato in a warmed tortilla with melted cheese seems to be an odd combination. Too much carbohydrate, right? And potatoes – meat and potatoes in particular – are such an integral part of European and American cooking. What are they doing in a Latin recipe? Well, potatoes as we know them are native to South America and were brought back to Europe by the Spanish in the 1500s. So it’s a quintessentially Latin dish after all.

These potato quesadillas make a terrific appetizer for holiday potlucks, and a light meal for any time of the day, breakfast, lunch or dinner. This particular recipe was inspired by  the one in Steven Raichlen’s Healthy Latin Cooking. His recipe has no cheese and uses low-fat sour cream and fat-free flour tortillas. Mine includes cheese and uses corn tortillas instead.  I think corn tortillas are much more flavorful and have a better texture than flour. But still, it’s matter of personal preference.

Have them for breakfast with a good cup of chocolate. Buen provecho! Thanks for visiting my blog!

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1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
1 large russet potato
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 chipotle chile in adobo chopped, seeded
1 tablespoon of adobo sauce, strained, seeds removed
8 corn tortillas
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tomato, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

First, bake the potato. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Rinse the potato and pierce it 2 or 3 times with a fork. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 to 50 minutes or until the potato is soft, and you can pierce it all the way through with a fork. Let the potato cool, then peel. Discard or eat the peel (potato skins are delicious!) Mash the potato, then set aside.

If the tortillas have been refrigerated (and they should be after purchase), set them out on a rack or plates to dry while the potato is baking. The reason for this is that if the package of tortillas is refrigerated, water condenses on the inside, and the moisture will cause the tortillas to stick to the pan while cooking.

Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently until the onions are golden brown, about 6 minutes.

When onions are browned, add the chicken broth, chopped chipotle chile, adobo sauce, and the potato. Mix well and simmer until all the chicken broth has been absorbed, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt or salt to taste and mix.

Heat another skillet or griddle on medium until a drop of water dances and sizzles when you sprinkle it. Wait a few seconds until all the water is gone, then place a tortilla in the skillet, add 1/4 cup of the potato mixture and 1/2 cup of cheese. Spread evenly. Place another tortilla down on top and press down with a spatula. Heat quesadilla for about 1 minute on each side, taking care that the tortillas do not get crisp. Repeat with remaining tortillas, potato mixture and cheese.

Cut quesadillas into quarters, and place on a serving platter or plates. Garnish with chopped tomato and cilantro, and serve immediately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coconut Eggnog
Makes 4 cups

Coconut eggnog is a terrific way to give holiday entertaining a Latin twist. This Puerto Rican drink is derived from Steven Raichlen’s book Healthy Latin Cooking, a good source of Latin recipes that are off the beaten track and often not found in restaurants.

Healthy Latin Cooking mentions that coconut eggnog or coquito, is traditionally served in small glasses. The recipe involves draining 4 coconuts of coconut water, then cutting them in half with a cleaver and serving the eggnog in the shells. If you’re enterprising, go for it! But to save time, my recipe uses canned or boxed coconut water, which is readily available in stores.

I also use 1/2 cup, rather than a cup of rum. This allows the flavors of the coconut, condensed milk and spices to stand out more. Drink safely, and thanks for visiting my blog!

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1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup light unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 cups canned coconut water
1/2 cup light rum
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg plus 1/4 teaspoon more for garnish
1 egg, beaten

Tip: If you need cinnamon and nutmeg, you don’t have to buy a whole container. Natural foods stores and some markets have spices in bulk, so you can get only as much as you need at a time. Spices cost pennies this way. There are also no past-their-prime containers of spices taking up space in the cabinet. Spices lose their potency if they’ve been sitting around on a shelf too long. Fresh spices mean a better-tasting dish.

Open the can of coconut milk. You will see that the coconut fat has solidified. Scoop out the can, place the contents in a microwave-safe bowl, and zap it for about thirty or forty seconds. Stir to make sure all the fat is dissolved, then start making the eggnog.

In a large saucepan on medium heat, combine coconut water, nutmeg, cinnamon, coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, rum and beaten egg. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes, and then remove from heat. Do not let the eggnog come to a simmer or boil at any point, otherwise the proteins in the egg will coagulate, and then there will be scrambled egg in the mixture.

I recommend adding the coconut water first, then stirring in the nutmeg and cinnamon, then adding the other ingredients. Otherwise, the spices may form little clumps, which you’ll have to work to get out.

Let the eggnog cool to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered, for at least 3 to 4 hours or overnight. Because the cinnamon and nutmeg may sink to the bottom while chilling, stir before serving. Serve chilled in a small glass or cup with a sprinkle of nutmeg on top.

Hot Dog Stuffing

My stepmother was Mexican, and one Thanksgiving her sister-in-law Carmen made the stuffing. And probably the turkey as well, though I’m not sure. The stuffing was memorable in all the wrong ways…

…Because Carmen made the stuffing with hot dogs. To say it clashed with the turkey is the understatement of the century. Now there are legitimate stuffing recipes made with sausage. So I’ll never know if Carmen thought hot dogs were more or less the same thing or what. But I laugh about that Thanksgiving to this day.

So Happy Thanksgiving! No hot dogs in the stuffing, O.K.?

 

Poblano Mushroom Enchiladas with Avocado Cream Sauce

This recipe is a knockout. And I have anecdotal proof: My husband, who is culinarily hard to please, couldn’t stop raving about it. It’s a little more work than usual, so you might want your sous chef, that is, a friend, partner or child, to help you. They won’t be sorry.

The fun thing about developing your own cuisine is that you can mix and match existing recipes to make new ones, then add a few tweaks of your own. The filling for these enchiladas, for instance, comes from Bon Appetit’s recipe for poblano and mushroom tacos. The avocado cilantro cream sauce is from Gimme Delicious. And the enchilada assembly and baking is from The Recipe Critic’s Chicken Enchiladas with Avocado Cream Sauce.

Together, they make something wonderful. So here are these recipes in combination, with a few minor modifications. And I know my pictures look like a movie star’s face before it’s been Photoshopped, but the food tastes great. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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The Filling
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium to large poblano chiles, seeded, sliced into strips
1 red onion, sliced
6 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced (about 2 1/2 cups)
2 teaspoons cumin
salt to taste (I recommend 1/2 teaspoon)

Heat oil in skillet on medium-high and add chiles, red onion and mushrooms. Sauté for 5 minutes. Turn off heat, then add cumin and salt. Mix well and set aside.

The Avocado Cream Sauce
1 California avocado
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Place ingredients in a blender and whirl until smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender as necessary. Set aside.

Make the filling and the cream sauce first, then preheat the oven to 350 degrees while you cook the tortillas.

The Tortillas
8 corn tortillas
olive oil

Tip: You will need to soften the tortillas in hot oil, so before doing so, please follow these safety measures. First, make sure your frying pan is dry. Any water in the oil will turn to steam while you’re cooking, causing the hot oil to pop and splatter. Second, heat the oil gradually, allowing any steam to escape. You can also cover the pan with a fine mesh splatter guard; I recommend doing that. 

Fill a frying pan with olive oil to about 1/4 inch depth. Heat oil on medium-high, then cook tortillas in hot oil for about 10 seconds on each side, and place on paper towels to drain.

Assembling the Enchiladas
Place a softened tortilla down on a plate, spread 1 tablespoon of avocado cream sauce down the center. Add some of the poblano mushroom filling. Roll the tortilla up and place seam side down in a baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Spread the rest of the avocado cream sauce over the tops of the enchiladas. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove enchiladas from the oven, garnish with a few springs of cilantro and serve.

Buen Provecho!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tilapia with Coconut, Jalapeño and Cilantro
Two Servings

Hola readers. These are crazy times we’re living in, so it’s a good thing to have some kind of refuge, whatever that is for you. It could be taking a walk in the woods, having coffee with a friend, or knitting – anything you enjoy doing that recharges your batteries.

This blog is my refuge. I listen to the soothing strains of jazz musician Chet Baker’s trumpet and voice while I cook. His music, along with other jazz greats of his era, envelops the beautiful colors and scents of Latin cooking such as the cilantro, jalapeño, coconut, and cumin of this recipe, making a comforting little blanket to snuggle in, at least for awhile.

This is a fish recipe, not only because tilapia is delicious, but because the recipes in this blog use meat as little as possible. There is a reason for that. Right now I am stuck at home in California because of the smoke from one of the catastrophic wildfires that have erupted at both ends of the state. And animal agriculture is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

There are other factors for sure, such as overdevelopment and people living further out in fire-prone areas. But global warming is certainly one of them. We can have great food and take care of the planet at the same time. Enjoy! And thanks for visiting my blog!

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2 tilapia filets
2 tablespoons of coconut oil
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeño chile, seeded, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon salt

Tip: Wear gloves when you handle chiles because capsaicin, the compound that makes chile peppers hot, will absorb into your skin. If you don’t have gloves, just be careful not to touch your eyes. Ouch!

Heat coconut oil in large skillet on medium heat until it starts to bubble. Sauté chile and garlic until garlic turns golden, about 2 minutes.

Add coconut milk, salt and cumin. Stir. Add tilapia filets and cook until fish is opaque and cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

Place tilapia filets on plates, and spoon remaining sauce in the skillet over them. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.