Perfect Black Bean Goodness

Perfect Black Bean Goodness, the ultimate comfort food.  Did I mention that it’s vegetarian?  Most black beans are made with some combination of pork: fat, sausage, bacon drippings, etc.  On top of the rich meaty taste of the beans, the pork flavors them during cooking.

And cook they will.  For an hour plus.  Making beans requires forethought, something I’ve generally lacked, and patience, something we are all improving upon.  In any case, making beans is an essential kitchen skill.

Beans are probably the most economical of meals.  But their cheapness is only one of their many fine qualities.  Make a large pot of beans and you have dinner for the next few days.  Moreover, leftover beans only get more and more flavorful, something not every dish can flaunt.

This recipe is a combination of cooking knowledge from 2 amazing women.  My mom who’s sofrito method I use, and Ms. Dragonwagon who has an ingenuity at making healthy and richly flavorful vegetarian recipes.  (See my note at the end of the post for specifics on what changed and what stayed the same)

OK, OK, gimme the recipe: Perfect Black Bean Goodness recipe

Start with a little forethought.  Cover the beans with water and soak overnight or all day while you work.

Drain the beans and place them in a large dutch oven.  Add water until they are covered about a 1/2 inch, about 8 cups.

Here’s what we’ll need for our first round of flavor.  1 entire onion, 6 cloves, 1 head of garlic, 2 bay leaves, and some fresh oregano (It’s from my herb garden).

Take the 6 whole cloves and stud the onion.  Push them into the onion like nails- that is what cloves look like.

Add all of this to the pot.  Yes, the skins is on for the onion and the garlic head.  Trust me on this.

Bring to a boil, then lower to medium-low and cook 1 hour.

After an hour, add chopped sweet potatoes and rough chopped carrots.  Lots of orange color=lots of beta carotene.

After an hour an a half of cooking, fish out the whole head of garlic and clove-studded onion.  Set aside the garlic and discard the onion.  Here’s what they should look like, a mess.

Make the sofrito.  We’ll need another diced onion, 6 cloves minced garlic (not shown), about 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, and 2 diced bell peppers.

Cook these ingredients in large saute pan with a little olive oil.

Add in 1 diced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce.  Oh…I love this stuff.

Saute these aromatics 4-5 minutes.

Add in half a can of tomato paste.  (Use a 6-ounce can)

And coat all of the sauteed vegetables.  Cook another 3-4 minutes.

Add the sofrito to the beans.  Also add more flavor in the form of 1 1/2 tablespoons of ground cumin smoky goodness, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, zest of one orange, and salt to taste (1-2 teaspoons).

Remember that cooked head of garlic.  This is the true secret to giving these beans a depth of flavor.  Squeeze out all the garlic pulp onto a plate and stir into the beans.  It will be very messy, and you will be utterly tempted to lick off pieces of garlic pulp on your fingers; go ahead, my full support is behind you, just don’t “taste” it all.

Cook another few minutes for all the flavors to get friendly with each other.  Serve with rice.  Trust me this stuff only gets better with time.

Recipe Notes: This recipe was inspired by my mentor-vegetarian, Crescent Dragonwagon, from her Black Bean Feijoada recipe.  I followed her process for the preliminary cooking of the beans, using a clove-studded onion and entire head of garlic with its cooked puree added in afterwards.  This method has completely transformed how I cook beans.  I also kept the orange zest and chipotle, a classic combination.  I changed her process based on how my mom taught me to make beans which is to combine the aromatics (onions, garlic, bell pepper holy trinity) in a separate saute with tomato paste.  I also didn’t add any of the soy-meats to make it a feijoada.

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Spinach and Eggplant Quiche (with tofu!)

What my husband doesn’t know won’t kill him.

In this case, what my husband doesn’t know is that instead of using cream in a recent quiche recipe, I used soft tofu.  All to a brilliant ending of “Wow, this is tasty, honey.”

I love quiche.  Not only is it a simple, very versatile recipe, but it’s also a fabulous way to use up leftover vegetables.

Here’s the finished product.  I forgot to charge my camera battery, so I don’t have a step-by-step tutorial.  Sorry folks.

Print this recipe: Spinach and Eggplant Quiche (with tofu!)

In any case, the basics of a quiche are the following:

  • 1 pie crust.  Use store bought for a faster prep time.  Use a store bought one that’s already in a tin for the epitome of convenience.
  • 2 cups of cheese.  I like Gruyere cheese because it has a rich, nutty flavor.  Regular Swiss cheese is fine too.
  • 2 eggs to help bind everything together.  3 would be fine too if you like your quiche with more egg flavor.
  • Other flavorings.  Obviously salt and pepper, but herbs and other spices work well too.  I used dried marjoram (one of my favorites) and 1 seeded and diced canned chipotle pepper with an extra teaspoon of its smoky adobo sauce.  De-seeding it is optional; it decreases the spiciness.
  • Heavy cream or tofu.  1 cup of cream if that’s your route.  I wanted to go lower fat so I used half a package of soft tofu which melted as soon as my mixing spoon touched it.
  • 1diced onion, sauteed with vegetables to start the cooking process
  • Vegetables.  Also sauteed with the onions.  Open your produce drawers and play connect the dots.  This is truly a recipe for making-over any leftover vegetables into a knockout.  I used about 2 cups of fresh eggplant and 1 10-ounce package of frozen chopped spinach.

Ready set, 3 steps.  That’s all.

1.  Mix cheese, eggs, tofu, and extra flavorings in a large bowl.

2.  Saute the diced onion and vegetables in olive oil for 5-7 minutes until they are cooked.  The onions will be translucent.  I used eggplant and their color went from pale white to buttery yellow. Generally the vegetables need to cook a little beforehand to ensure that they are fully done and melt-in-your-mouth-soft when you serve the quiche.

3.  Mix everything together to make the filling.  Empty it into your pie shall.  Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, plus or minus.  Insert a toothpick or butter knife in the center and make sure it comes out clean.

Cilantro Marinated Grilled Zucchini

Here’s another recipe for all the zucchini that stares at you on your counter-top because you cannot keep up with cooking all the harvest.

Skip the tutorial, print the recipe, and get a-cookin’: Cilantro Marinated Grilled Zucchini

I’ll be using my double burner indoor grill pan for this recipe, but it would be pretty uh-mazing if you did cook the zucchini over a BBQ.

First off, I have to make a disclaimer.  Every time I use my grill pan, my fire alarm goes off from all the smoke, so I have to take a few precautionary measures.  Does this happen to anyone else when they use an indoor grill pan?  It happened at my last apartment too, and I wonder what on earth am I doing wrong?

First, I have to open up all the windows to the kitchen and dining room.

Second, I take out our trusty Hawaiian Breeze fan that is about the size of a small watermelon, but packs a punch.  This is the best fan we own.  I’ve nicknamed it Napoleon, small but effective.

Third, I position Napoleon (the fan) towards the grill pan and the stove vent-fan.

Fourth, I get our stove’s fan going.  It’s not a true vent, just recirculates the smoky air.  I’d like to give whoever invented that a gold star (sarcasm).

Fifth, I open up the garage door.

Here’s the set-up.  Notice the strategy to use Napoleon to divert smoke away from the evil smoke detector.

I can’t believe I just showed an open doorway to our garage online.  It could be worse, I suppose.

Slice up your zucchini into either length-wise or width-wise pieces, depending on your preferences.  Normally I cut mine along the length, but I had a 10-pound zucchini that I forgot about while we went on vacation to Seattle, and I went the circle route.  Eventually it’ll all get cooked and chopped and deliciously marinated.

After all this prep, then I get a-grillin’.  Preheating the grill pan is necessary, but once it’s ready, the process moves quickly.

Make sure to put oil on the zucchini to get grill marks and make sure they don’t stick- not a pretty sight.

Make a single layer, packing the slices in like sardines.  You’ll still have to do a second batch most likely, more if you have a single burner grill pan.

We’ll cook these on the hot grill pan for about 4 minutes on each side.  DON’T TOUCH!!  We want those enticing grill lines all over the zucchini for taste as well as color-interest.

After about 4 minutes, flip to the other side and cook another 4-5 minutes until cooked through but the squash maintains a slight crunch.  Repeat grilling the rest of the zucchini.  Set the grilled zucchini aside to rest while you prepare the marinade.

You’ll need a food processor or a blender.  And these ingredients: 2 bunches of cilantro, a couple sprigs of Italian parsley, 1 lemon, and 4 cloves of garlic (come on, don’t be shy from flavor).

Remove the tips of the cilantro stems.  Not too much, the stem flavor balances the exuberance of the leaves.

Rough chop these.

Rough chop the parsley.  Add cilantro, parsley and 4 minced garlic cloves to a food processor.  Also grate in the lemon zest and squeeze the juice in.

Pulse 20 some-odd times to break up the greens.  It’ll look like this.

Now we’re going to smooth it out a little bit more.  Add 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper.  Pulse until desired consistency.

Pour the marinade into a large bowl.

Chop up your cooled grilled zucchini and drop into the marinade.

Mix well.  With hands optional.  Let marinate at least 1 hour.  This dish makes a flavorful side and a drop-everything-and swoon topping for any salad.  There’s no need for dressing as the marinade has plenty of flavor and salad green coating capacity.

Gazpacho- the Perfect Antidote to August Spanish Heat

Wanna skip the story and get to cooking?  Printable Chilled Gazpacho with Garlic Croutons

If you’re getting ready to travel to Spain, everything you read will say, don’t go in August when the heat is near unbearable.  So, of course, that’s exactly when Kris and I go for our honeymoon in 2009.  Yes, I read all those warnings, but for for some reason the dozens of times I saw that warning in print didn’t register.

Spain in August is hot.  An understatement.

Spain in August is a constant wrestling match with the sun who always wins.  Even if you are going half of a block, the sun is fixated on you like a child cooking a bug under a microscope.  It shows no mercy, just like that masochistic little child.

Here’s another thing.  In Spain, as in most of the world, they use Celsius for temperatures.  Like most Americans, I’m not familiar with the conversion factor and so walked around much of Andalusia in a state of heat that I couldn’t give a number to or rather that was numbered in what seemed like a foreign language.

My husband, on the other hand, is  a scientist and familiar with both Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature equivalents.  He knew what the temperatures were in Fahrenheit but for his own safety didn’t release the information until the end of the day in our air-conditioned hotel room.

As you go inland in Spain, the temperatures increase.  Logical.  The further you get from the ocean, the more intense the heat.  Sevilla is an inland Southern city in Spain, truly one of the most beautiful.  I loved Sevilla for its Alcazaba (pronounced, Al-ca-tha-ba, the Spanish way) castle and gardens especially.  When we made our tourist stop there, on the hottest day, of course the day we do the most walking, the temperature was 42 degrees Celsius.

“Forty-two degrees,” I mention, sweat accumulating on every known and unknown surface of skin.  “That’s definitely the highest we’ve seen here, huh?”

“Uh-huh,” says my husband cautiously, and then he steers the conversation to the points of interest we’re checking out for the day.

I maintain my cheerfulness (I am on my honeymoon, right?) until about 1 or 2 pm, just after lunch, what should aptly be siesta (nap) time.  Something in me snaps and a monster rises from the dead.  I truly cannot go on walking another step in this heat.  I drag us back to the hotel and, like the locals who obviously know how to live in this heat, take a siesta.  Once the hottest part of the day has passed, we continue our tour of Sevilla.

For Americans (like me) 42 degrees Celsius is 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  We were walking around for miles in 42/107 degree heat, checking some of the most fascinating historical and artistic remnants of Moorish Spain.  It was one of the most insane things I’ve ever done.

Lucky for us, the Spanish, who’ve had to survive this heat for sometime now, have created the perfect antidote for it: Chilled Gazpacho Soup.  It is also one of the best ways to use up summer produce including tomatoes, cucumber, and sweet peppers.  Chilled gazpacho is the only way to combat heat waves that make psychedelic pictures around your face.

Don’t close your eyes, you might miss the making of this ingenious respite from the heat.

We’ll start with the ingredients: 4-5 tomatoes, 1/2 large English cucumber (or use a regular one, just peel off the waxy skin), 1 bell pepper, a little less than half an onion.

And of course, the secret ingredients: a couple of tablespoons of roasted garlic olive oil and 1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar which will give a sweet acidic taste to the Chilled Gazpacho.  If you don’t have sherry vinegar you could substitute apple cider.

Do try to go all Spanish on this recipe if you can.

We’ll also need 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.

Some people insist on a clove of garlic.  I err on the side of caution and rely instead on garlic infused olive oil.  Since everything about gazpacho is raw and raw garlic has a big ego, I feel it will generally try to predominate the taste of the soup.

Roughly chop up everything and place in in a fabulous blender, tomatoes on the bottom for their liquid.  Puree until you reach a smooth consistency.

Love that pinky-green color.

Now- you must, must, must chill gazpacho.  Every single Spanish grandmother is in agreement about this.  It’s written into the Spanish constitution.  We’re trying to fight the summer heat; the soup must be cold.  Put it in the fridge for at least an hour for desperate cases, more if you have patience and forethought (ahem).

When you’re ready to serve, make garlic flavored croutons out of bread and roasted garlic olive oil.

Pan fry 1 inch cubes of the bread in a generous amount of Roasted-Garlic olive oil.  My favorite used to be called Consorzio, a brand I found at Costco; they are now Annie’s Naturals.  Crisp the croutons up by cooking each side for 2-3 minutes until golden, brown, and delicious.

Then flip each bread piece over and golden-brown-delicious the other side.

Drain the croutons on a paper towel and sprinkle 3-4 croutons on top of each soup serving, maybe add a little Parmesan, Manchego if you are a Spanishophile (I just made that word up).

Ratatouille Lasagna

Ratatouille is French for recipe that uses up everything from summer produce.

Zucchini- check

Eggplant- check

Peppers- check

Tomatoes- check

Basil- check

It’s very versatile too.  We can make it, like the famous Pixar movie, into a gratin.  We can use it as a jazzed up spaghetti sauce.  A calzone.  A quiche.  An omelet (very French).  Wrapped up like a cigar in crepes (very, very French).  You get the idea.

Today we’re making a Ratatouille Lasagna because in an attempt to clear out my pantry, I noticed that I have 3 1/2  boxes of lasagna noodles.

Wanna print this recipe and get on with the cooking? Ratatouille Lasagna

This recipe is a Choose Your Own Adventure style based on 4 key components: noodles, sauce, cheese, and yumminess (veggies, meat, leftovers, you get the idea).  I’m gonna give you options at each step, except for the yumminess part because I’m a control-freak, and this is a Ratatouille Lasagna

Part 1: Noodles.  You can (A) save yourself about 1/2 hour by going with the no-boil which means 10 seconds of opening a box or (B) neurotically obsess over whether the noodles are just under al dente as you boil them in preparation.  We’ll need 9 noodles.  Choose wisely my friends.

Part 2: Sauce.  Since ratatouille is tomato-based, we’re sticking to tradition.  You can (A) save yourself 2-3 hours of work by opening a jar of your favorite tomato-sauce (or the one that was on sale this past week) or (B) neurotically obsess over the thickness of Homemade Tomato Sauce from the avalanche of tomatoes your garden has bequeathed you.  I will be the first to admit that some days you want to go all Anne-of-Green-Gables and do things from scratch and some days you just want to open that jar of tomato sauce and call it a day.  No judgement here.  We’ll need 2 to 2 1/2 cups of sauce.

Part 3: Cheese.  You can (A) use 1 cup of cottage cheese or (B) 1 cup of ricotta.  Mix it in a small bowl with 1 egg and 1 teaspoon of salt.  The egg helps thing to bind.  Set this aside until layering time.

Mixin’ it up.

You will also need some grated mozzarella, about 1/2 of an 8-ounce package.

And about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.  If you are a cheese-nut (not to be confused with a cheese-head Packers’ fan) feel free to add more grated cheese.

Part 4: The Ratatouille Yumminess.  All adventures lead here.

First we’ve got the classic summer vegetables.  Forgive me for not photographing the diced onion.

We’re going to saute the onions and peppers over medium-high heat in a little olive oil (1 tablespoon) to give the house a mouth-watering aroma.  Be sure to beat off stray husbands who wander in with a wooden spoon.

Next add the eggplant and 1 more tablespoon of olive oil.  If I had remembered to take a picture, you’d see that I’ve got half of a large one chopped into 1-inch pieces.  When eggplants cook their color changes to a brilliant yellow and they turn sweet.  They need a little more oil to help them along in the cooking process.  As little sponges, the eggplant will soak up the extra olive oil you add to the pan.

Saute about 4-5 minutes, occasionally stirring to avoid burning.  But don’t get obsessive, we do want some edges to caramelize.

Add 1 more tablespoon of olive oil and the zucchini.  The eggplant should look halfway softened and sweeten even more as the zucchini cooks, another 4-5 minutes.

(Side note: if you’re using store-bought tomato sauce you’ll need to add some flavor: oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram, a couple of minced garlic cloves, whatever suits your mood for the day.  You could also just buy one of those all-in-one Provencal spice mixes and use that.  Choose your own Ratatouille adventure.)

Now the layering process.  My theory is this: first, it needs to start with a little cooking spray and sauce on the bottom to prevent sticking; two, it needs at least 3 layers of noodles to be called a lasagna, and finally 3, it needs to end with sauce and cheese on top.  Everything else in the middle really doesn’t matter as long as these 3 requirements are met, so below is just a suggestion for layering.

Start with a light spray of cooking spray (extra prevention against sticking) and 1/2 cup of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 7 1/2″ by 11″ baking dish.  (Requirement #1 met)

Layer 3 lasagna noodles.

Top those noodles with about a third of the remaining sauce and half of the ratatouille vegetables.

Make sure you have everything around you, assembly line style.

3 more noodle layers.  Try to mix up how you layer the noodles.

Plop on half of the riccotta-egg-salt mixture.

Isn’t that graceful?  Spread it around as best you can.  I doubt it will cover everything, don’t worry it’ll melt and spread out in the oven.

Top this with half your mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and another third of the sauce.

Also spread around the rest of the ratatouille vegetables.  Realize you’re reaching the top of the pan and need to somehow cram the rest of the ingredients in; this is an expected situation when making lasagna.  Remember, it all bakes down.

Cover with 3 more noodles.  I had to reach for another box (remember I have 3 other boxes of noodles) which is why 2 of these noodles look like they don’t belong.  (Requirement #2 met, 3 layers of noodles).

Now finish it off with the rest of your sauce, ricotta, and mozzarella/Parmesan mix.  (Requirement #3 met: end with cheese.)

Cover with foil (quick hint: spray the foil with cooking spray to prevent half of your cheese topping from coming off when you remove the foil).

Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.  Remove the foil and cook for another 10-15 minutes until your cheese is browned to perfection.

Merci l’été.

How to: Make Homemade Tomato Sauce from the Garden

Tomato Zeal (noun): an April/May induced state of fervent excitement for growing tomatoes that causes people to have 2-3 times as many plants as needed without foreseeing the future consequences of an amount of tomatoes that becomes unsustainable to stay on top of.

I am a victim of tomato zeal.  Every year.  Last year, I grew 4 tomato plants, moderately sustainable.  This year, the zeal possessed me to plant 8.  Yeah, I know, 8 plants for 2 people.  The main way that I convinced myself that I could handle this many tomatoes was to learn how to make fresh tomato sauce from them.  I can make tomato sauce from a can of tomatoes, but all freshness?  That was a challenge that I couldn’t pass up.

So, a little research entailed.  A 2009 article from the San Francisco Chronicle (“From Vine to Freezer”) helped me get the basic technique and proportions, then, the sauce went with the imagination.

This recipe is perfect for using up unloved, neglected tomatoes or brand new ones.  In short, it is the best way to temper tomato zeal.

Printable: Homemade Tomato Sauce from the Garden

We’ll start with tomatoes.  The rounder the easier it will be to take off the peel, but heirlooms have an unbeatable flavor.  In the end, the peel comes off even the wild-shaped ones.

This one is old.  Perfect for tomato sauce the ultimate don’t judge a tomato by its peel.

To get the peel to come off easier, we have to score each tomato.  This means make and X with a knife on the bottom.  (If you have a food mill, you can skip this step.)

X marks the spot.

Some larger heirloom tomatoes may need a 6-pointed star because they are too good for an X.

We’re going to dunk these tomatoes in boiling water for about 45 seconds.  Just enough to blanch them.

The peel will start to roll up, the tomato may look like it’s about to burst.  Kind of like this.

That’s your cue to take ‘um out with a slotted spoon and place them in a colander to cool off under running water.  It sounds obvious, but we don’t want to use our hands to peel tomatoes that are recently out of boiling water.

Run the tomatoes under water to cool them.  Then take off the peels starting at your X/score mark.

Set the peeled ones on a LARGE cutting board that you can fit inside a cookie sheet.

Why the cookie sheet?  It traps the escapists juices that inevitably wonder off while you chop the tomatoes up, and we want to keep everything (except the the peels and cores) that these garden joys offer us.

I realized I needed a cookie sheet in the chopping process and lifting up pound of tomatoes with juice running over the sides was not a clean process.

We want to take out the cores of the larger tomatoes.  The cores of the small ones can stay in- don’t make too much work for yourselves.

Chop them up.  Doesn’t really matter how.  This is a forgiving recipe, and besides they will all just disintegrate into sauce anyways.

Tomatoes peeled, cored, chopped.  Check.

Everything else is pretty easy from here on out.

Dump the water from the tomato blanching process and use that giant pot to make your sauce.

Saute 1 onion in olive oil until the color becomes opaque and translucent, about 3 minutes.

Dump in chopped tomatoes.

Don’t forget about the juice that trickled over the edges of the cutting board that you ingeniously captured with the cookie sheet.

Press 4 cloves of garlic into the pot.

Add herbs.

And honey.  For a hint of sweetness.

Mix everything well and bring to a simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours.  It’s good to make a lot of tomato sauce in a batch so you rarely have to do this looooong simmering process once.

Now go do something important around your house- like attempt to conquer the laundry.  Or shirk your chores and cuddle down with a great book.  Guess what I did…

Every 20-30 minutes, about the length of one chapter, check on the tomatoes.  Mix them so the bottom doesn’t burn.  The sauce thickens as it cooks.  It’s done when you can stand your spoon in it, a monument to handling your tomato zeal with finesse.

Chilaquiles Verdes

Not Chee-la-qwee-les.

It’s Chee-la-kee-les, and for every Mexican grandmother or mother in the world, there exists a different recipe for them.  What are chilaquiles?  Fried tortilla strips (or triangles) cooked in salsa often mixed with other meat, eggs, or vegetables.  Not only are they a great way to use up old tortillas (though new ones are fine too), but allegedly they cure hangovers too.  Not that I would have any experience with that.

There’s a spectrum for how people like their chilaquiles.

Very soggy–soggy–somewhat soggy–somewhat crispy–crispy–very crispy.

And yes, there exists shades of gray between each of these categories.  I like mine somewhat soggy, otherwise I’d just be eating chips and salsa.  If you want crispier options, see the note at the end of this post.

Printable Recipe: Chilaquiles Verdes

You’ll need some Salsa Verde first.  Click the link if you don’t know how to make it, but the printable recipe also explains how to make fresh Salsa Verde in step 1.  Basically pulse tomatillos, onion, garlic, cilantro, salt, and jalapenos until it liquifies but not so much that it becomes one uniform green salsa; we want to be able to see the bits and pieces.

Next, prepare the tortillas.  I’ve got 12 here, approximately 3 per person.

Cut them in half.

Then make strips from those halves about 1/2″ wide.

If you prefer triangle over oddly shaped rectangles, you can do that with your tortillas.

Heat up 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil over high heat.  Add half of the tortillas strips.

Move ‘um around to make a single layer.  As best you can.

Now DON’T TOUCH for 3-4 minutes.  They are frying up, edges start crisping, but some parts stay soft.  After 3-4 minutes, move them around with a wooden spoon and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes.  Cook longer for crispier tortillas, but you may also have to use more oil.

Drain them on a paper towel and sprinkle on salt.

Repeat with another 1/4 cup of oil and the rest of the tortillas.  Set the just barely crisped tortillas aside until the last moment of cooking when we will put them in at the end to maintain those bits of crunch.

Now, let’s attempt to make chilaquiles healthy.  It is not an oxymoron.  We’ve got zucchini.

And a sweet bell pepper.  This is a gypsy pepper.

We’ll saute this yumminess for 3-5 minutes.  Please use the same pan you fried the tortilla strips with, unless you like to do dishes.

Add the Salsa Verde and swish it around to coat everything.

Cook for another 3 minutes so some of the excess water can evaporate out.

When you are ready to serve, add the tortilla strips.  This way parts of the strips will retain their crispiness integrity, but the softer parts will soak up the Salsa Verde.

Coat the tortilla strips with vegetables and Salsa Verde.  Cook a couple minutes until heated through.  Eat as needed to alleviate hangovers, I mean to use up leftover tortillas.

Variations: Add tofu, cooked meat, scrambled egg, or top with a fried egg for a more substantial meal.

Note at the end of the post: For crispier chilaquiles, use tortilla chips or broken tostada pieces, or fry the tortilla strips in smaller batches and in more oil.  Don’t mix the fried tortillas and salsa until the absolute last minute you want it, unless you like your chilaquiles very soft.

Zesty Zucchini Gratin

Zucchinis have invaded my subconscious.  They are everywhere and will not let up.  It reminds me of when I tried to jog 6 miles on a treadmill for the first time and compared it to Tartarus.  Am I really making a dent in this harvest?

I have a measly 2 plants, and for the past 3 weeks I’ve harvested between 6 and 9 zooks (my term of endearment) each week!  My grandma says, “Zucchinis don’t forget to grow.”  They are truly a plant for the novice gardeners.  Zucchinis have the ability to boost one’s self esteem like a good bosom buddy.

This recipe got its inspiration from a blog called In Erika’s Kitchen.  I like how her recipe wasn’t the swimming-in-cream-French-style gratin.  It was simple: zooks, cheese, bread crumbs, bake.  Still…I’m not the kind of girl to follow an already beaten path.  I wanted to spice it up a bit, so I added a couple of spices and used pepper jack instead of mozzarella.

Printable: Zesty Zucchini Gratin

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Prep you baking dish.  I’m using a 9 x 13 inch glass one.  You can use cooking spray (the clean way) or a little bit of olive oil that you swish around with your fingers (the dirty way or a great job for a kid).

Prep your zooks (zucchinis).  Slice them to make circles about 1/2 inch thick.  1/2 inch is about as thick as a magazine.

Grate up about 2 cups of pepper jack cheese.  I love this cheese and its little flecks of chili peppers.  Definitely a surprise on your tongue.

However, pepper jack cheese alone is never enough spice goodness for me, so I added a jalapeno.  To tame down the spiciness, just cut out the seeds and membranes using your knife.  See exhibit A.

We’re going to cut the jalapenos into long thin slices.  Then dice them up into tiny pieces, about the size of their seeds- you don’t want people with a dainty tongue to get caught with a chunk of jalapeno in their mouth (though I love that).

That’s all the prep we need.  Thank you, thank you very much.

Did you prep your baking dish?  If you haven’t, I’ll wait…

OK, make a layer of zucchini, overlapping each one with the previous one.

Sprinkle about half the cheese and half the jalapenos over the top.

Sprinkle the spices.  1/2 teaspoon of paprika (the brick red color) and 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder (the earthy colored one).  Layer 1 complete.

Arrange a second layer of zucchini in the same way as the first, overlapping.

Add the rest of the cheese and jalapeno.

Shake the bread crumbs over the top.  I had panko (Japanese style bread crumbs; they give more crunch), but any kind will suffice.Cover the pan with tin foil.  Neat trick- coat the foil with cooking spray to avoid the cheese cooking off onto the foil.

Bake for 35-40 minutes.  For the last 7-10 minutes, remove the foil to create a crispy top.  Chow down and congratulate yourself on yet another dent into the mountain of zucchini you have.

Moroccan Lentil Salad

Lentil beans are the poor man’s feast.  We always have a bag on hand for emergencies.  Fast. Cheap.  Tasty.  Better yet, healthy and low-fat.  Also, they are filling.

Cheap+filling=delicious.

I grew up on lentil soup or some variation of bean soup.  This is a lentil salad, meaning it is not liquidy and can be a chameleon like hummus.

If you need healthy brown bag lunches and are tired of PB ‘n J, try this Moroccan Lentil Salad.  Sounds like a commercial, but I’m serious.  Cook it on Monday and it’ll give you between 3 and 4 different lunches, depending on how much you want to eat.  Put it on top of salad, fantastic.  Inside a wrap-mmm good.  As a side dish next to fish- you’ve got your protein for a year.  You get the idea.

Printable Recipe:Moroccan Lentil Salad

We’ll start with green lentils, though in reality they look brown.  Food has a lot of misnomers.  Ever heard of red cabbage?  It’s really purple.  Red onions too, really purple and white.  Maybe the powerful person who called green lentils green thought green was a better color than brown.  Who knows, but we must oblige.

We’re going to cook a cup of lentils, really a fistful, with 3 cups of water.Don’t forget to cover it!!  Trap in the steam.  Trap in the heat.

Salt?  NO!

Bay Leaf? NO!

But lentils are soooo plain, what about some other flavor?

Just you wait…

Bring it up to a boil and then lower it to simmer.  This will cook for about 30 minutes.

Now we’re going to make the secret: Morrocan dressing.  It’s got a hint of cumin, a little pirouette from lime juice, color from turmeric, and ginger and garlic pizzazz.  Pizzazz I tell you.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Whisk it all together in a small prep bowl. Enter the greens from stage left.  We have cilantro, mint, and zucchini.  Notice the green theme?  Another reason these lentils should be green lentils. That there is my second zucchini from the garden and I have a gazillion more about to avalanche into the house in the next 2-3 weeks, so I got to stay on top of it and try to add them EVERYWHERE.  Well, except my morning coffee.  Don’t want to taint that moment of bliss.

The last 7-10 minutes of cooking the lentils, I slide in the chopped zucchini for good measure. The lentils should be done in 30 minutes or so.  You want them to keep their shape, but you also want them well…cooked.  Over 30 minutes is fine, under no way.  I’d say 40-45 minutes max, just in case you forget about it.  And no, that doesn’t mean I forgot about the lentils either, but thanks for thinking of it.

Put lentils and cooked zucchini into a medium sized bowl.  There shouldn’t be any liquid.  If there is, you may need to drain them first.  Pour over the fragrant dressing, take a whiff, and mix. Also add some fresh chopped mint.  Oh goodness, that smells so good.  Sometimes I wish you could just scratch and sniff the computer screen.I was going all healthy so I put a heaping 1/2 cup of the lentils on top of mixed salad greens, then sprinkled on fresh chopped cilantro and shredded carrot.Buen Provecho!

Zucchini Curry

Sometimes I buy ingredients that are on sale, but they are not my everyday staples, so they sit in my pantry gathering dust, staring me in the face every time I open the cabinet door.  Coconut milk is one of these culprits.  About 2 years ago I went through an obsessive curry phase, alright, I only made 2-3 recipes, but that was 3 recipes more than I’d ever made in my life.  So, for the past few years, 4 cans have been continuously reminding me that someday, somehow, I gotta put their delicious sweetness to good use.Enter the cookbook Gourmet Today.  I bought it from one of my favorite stores, half price books.  Lucky me, the cookbook included a free year subscription to the magazine.  Too bad the magazine no longer exists.  I’ve adjusted the recipe to have less coconut milk (read, less fat), added extra garlic, some extra spices, and decided to toast all the spices together instead of only 2.

You may be thinking, ok, so she’s used 1/2 a can of coconut milk, what about the other 3 1/2?  Yes…well…I haven’t really thought that far ahead yet.

Printable Recipe: Zucchini Curry

Start with fragrant spices.From the far left: 2 teaspoons curry powder, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds, pinch of cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds.

Toast these in a dry skillet to bring out their flavor.  Breathe deeply, your kitchen will smell like you’ve traveled across the world to India.Next prepare 2 other ingredients to make the curry paste.  Rough chop 1 jalapeno, and grate 1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger.  How do you get rid of the rough brown skin from the ginger, you ask?  Use the edge of a spoon to scrape it off, like your skinning it.  To grate it use a microplane, but you can also use a cheese grater.  Do you have a mortar and pestle?  Excellent!  Just add the jalapeno, ginger, and toasted spices to the mortar and grind the shape out of them.  I couldn’t find mine, so I had to use my oversized food processor.  I had to add in a few slices of zucchini and a splash of water to help the puree process.  Doesn’t matter how you get there, the end is the same, a rich yellow curry paste.  OK, OK, mine is slightly chunkier than it should be because I used the food processor instead of a mortar and pestle.  Set this aside, but you may find yourself leaning in to smell it everytime you pass by.

Now, in the same skillet (the Gourmet Today book had us grabbing a new pot-I’m looking out for our well-being.  We don’t need more dishes to wash, that’s for sure) saute the diced onion and minced garlic with a tablespoon or so of oil.  I like olive oil.  We have it all around.  People may say it has such a sharp flavor and you should use something more mild.  Either my taste buds are unsophisticated or we buy cheap olive oil; I can’t taste the difference.There’s some residual curry powder here from toasting the spices, and it’s all good; everything going into the same dish, no need for another pot.  Now plop in the curry paste.And the sliced zucchini.Now mix it all together, so the curry paste coats EVERYTHING.  When the zucchini starts to look like it’s sweating you’ll add the liquids.

Shake the coconut milk.  Don’t brush this step off.  The fat chunks (yes I just wrote fat chunks) will drop to the bottom, so shake, shake, shake (do-do-do-do-do-do) shake, shake, shake; shake your booty, I mean coconut milk.  Add only half the can- we’re trying to be healthy here.  Also pour in about 1/2 cup of chicken stock or veggie stock if that’s how you roll.Cook it all together for about 5 more minutes.  At this point in time, I’m thinking, cool, I just adapted this Gourmet recipe to have less fat.  Go me!  Then I do a double take; the curry is very liquidy, and I like my sauce to coat everything around it, not run all over my plate like egg yolks.  So, I decide to try the ol’ cornstarch thickener trick.  I use it all the time because I have a tendency to not measure my liquids.  In a small bowl I whisked 1 teaspoon of cornstarch with about 1 tablespoon of water.  Then I mixed it into the zucchini curry and simmered it another 4-5 minutes.  The curry continues to thicken especially as it cools.It is super important that you do this thickening trick in a SEPARATE dish, so you have control over the cornstarch dissolving.  This bears repeating: you will have control over the cornstarch dissolving.  You will make a grievous error if you add the cornstarch straight into the hot curry mix.  Please trust the person who’s already gone down that awful, ostracizing road.  You will end up with clumps of cornstarch in your curry, and it is not a pleasant experience to forewarn guests that they might bite into a dry pocket of bitter cornstarch.  Lesson learned here: control the cornstarch.

OK, so now, you’re ready to serve your own lower fat version of Zucchini Curry.  Congratulate yourself on a job well done.  Serve it with rice.  Dang it-I should’ve done brown rice to continue the healthiness.  You should use brown rice.  Sprinkle it with fresh cilantro.  Nothing complements curry like freshly chopped cilantro.  Do you have nuts lying around?  Awesome- sprinkle those on too for some added crunch.