Friday, August 29, 2008

Spanish Fideos

Yet again I am drawing on my memories of my visit to Barcelona. We ate fideos there that were similar to the way I made them at home this week. I hadn't made them in a long time, so I can't remember exactly how they were in Barcelona. But I think I did remember some of the key ingredients for making this vegetarian fideo dish. So I must confess that this recipe is in no way authentic. But it certainly turned out delicious! The ingredient that makes these fideos Spanish is pimenton dulce, mild Spanish paprika. I have seen it sold at the chain store World Market in the US.

Fideos are vermicelli pasta, otherwise known as angel hair. It comes in nests or in small pieces (like the version I used) or in long noodles that are a very thin version of spaghetti. They are fried first until they become golden and then liquid is added so they can finish cooking.

I added crushed Fire Roasted tomatoes and a bit of water. It's a very thick sauce, so I added a little water at at time as needed for the pasta to finish cooking.

The end result is referred to as a sopa seca or a dry soup. Instead of ending with a dry soup, it's also possible to add some vegetable broth to the same recipe to end up with a liquid soup.

Spanish Fideos

  • 1 small package of fideos, vermicelli pasta, angel hair nests or angel hair pasta (I used 7 ounces)
  • approximately 2 tablespoons oil or as needed
  • 1/2 onion, chopped (I used red onion)
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons of pimenton dulce
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 large can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes (I prefer fire roasted)*
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • about 1/2 to 1 cup water (or as needed - adding a bit at a time as the sauce gets too thick)
  • optionally add 1 to 2 cups of vegetable broth for a liquid soup instead of a dry soup
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • shredded cheese

Heat the oil a large skillet. Add the onion and crushed garlic cloves. (I don't even bother peeling the garlic, the skins fall off by themselves when they fry, and then the peels can be easily picked out). Season with salt and pepper. When soft, either remove of the onions and set them aside or leave them in the pan, depending on how big your pan is. You want there to be plenty of surface area to fry the pasta.

Add the pasta to the hot pan with a bit more oil, if needed. Fry the pasta, stirring constantly so that it doesn't burn. First it will turn a lighter white shade, then it will turn golden brown. When most of the pasta is golden brown, add the pimenton dulce, the onions (if they had been set aside), the can of crushed tomatoes and some olive oil. When the sauce is hot and simmering, lower the heat to simmer. Stir occasionally to prevent burning and sticking. Add water a bit at a time as the pasta absorbs the liquid to end up with a sopa seca.

For a liquid soup, add vegetable broth. Simmer uncovered until the pasta is the desired tenderness.

Season with more salt and pepper as needed and possibly more pimenton dulce, depending on desired spice level. When the pasta is the desired tenderness, you can remove the garlic cloves and chop into smaller pieces or leave them as they are, depending on your preference.

If desired, add a bit more extra virgin olive oil at the end and garnish with some shredded cheese.

*Note: you don't have to use canned tomatoes. You can add one or two chopped fresh tomatoes or chopped roasted fresh tomatoes and then add water or broth as needed for the pasta to have enough liquid to absorb.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Vegetarian Fiction

I have had this book since 1998, and I don't know how many times I have read it. It's actually a Young Adults book. During Tropical Storm Fay, we lost power several times, never knowing for how long each outage would last. So, I found myself in front of our bookcase looking for entertainment. This is the book that called to me.

It's Sunshine Rider: The First Vegetarian Western by Ric Lynden Hardman. I suppose I should warn my vegetarian readers that it takes some time before the hero, Wylie Jackson, becomes a vegetarian, and even after his change of heart there are still some pretty graphic meat references. For example, at the very beginning of the book, there is a recipe for Porterhouse Steaks that starts with a LIVE cow.... Each chapter begins with a recipe, including a few vegetarian recipes. The humor in the book extends to some of its recipes. For instance, here is part of the recipe for Masoor Dal:

"Into this smoking cauldron pitch the peas; there will be a sound like a cow backfiring. This is to be expected."

The recipe ends: "It's a dandy surprise."

I love it! So if you can handle the occasional graphic meat reference, it's an amazing and fun journey of a young man becoming an adult in the Wild West.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Romesco Sauce

Salsa Romesco is an incredibly flavorful sauce that comes from Catalonia in Spain. I had it for the first time when we were in Barcelona, and I have not been able to forget it. Now when I eat at Spanish restaurants, I just have to order something that comes with this sauce. Then this week, I realized that it probably isn't hard to make, so why don't I make it at home?!

So, I made it for some friends who came over to play music with DH, and everyone loved it so much, I made it again, so that I could remember to photograph it. I am finding it is great on so many things: various vegetables, especially green beans and mushrooms, potatoes, bread, cheese and even hard-boiled eggs.

I looked at many recipes on the Internet, and then combined them to form this recipe using ingredients that I can find easily in Florida. I am sure I will experiment more with it. But, this is a great start.

Salsa Romesco

1 28oz can of Organic Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes
1 small head of garlic, roasted then peeled*
1 chile ancho (stem and seeds removed), soaked in piping hot water for at least 10 minutes to soften
1/4 cup hazelnuts, peeled**
1/4 cup almonds, peeled**
1 large slice of rustic bread, toasted and crushed into large crumbs
salt and pepper
olive oil (approximately 1/2 cup)
optional: a dash of wine vinegar

Toast the nuts in a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium hot frying pan until they are golden and fragrant, stirring often to prevent burning. Remove and set aside. In the same hot pan, add a bit more oil if needed and fry the bread crumbs with the roasted garlic for a couple of minutes, until golden and fragrant.

Place the nuts in a food processor or blender and pulse until they are coarsely chopped. Do not blend to the point where they become a paste. Add the fried bread, the softened chile ancho (cut coarsely into pieces), the garlic, and the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Turn on the blender or food processor, slowly pouring the olive oil through the opening in the lid while it is blending. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add a dash of wine vinegar for extra tang, if desired.

This sauce gets even more flavorful after a day in the refrigerator.

*To see how to roast a whole head of garlic, check out this post on my friend Madelyn's blog, Karma-Free Cooking. Or to roast it on top of the stove, break the head into cloves. Then place the unpeeled cloves of garlic on a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and turn them every couple of minutes until the peels get black and the garlic gets very soft.

**To see how to peel almonds and hazelnuts, check out this post on my friend Madelyn's blog, Karma-Free Cooking.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Vegetarian Tostadas

Last month we had a party at our house, where among the many dishes and snacks I served were tostadas. I was pretty surprised at how many of my guests had never before had a tostada. Usually I anticipate many questions when I serve things like tamales, but I never expected confusion over this. I thought tostadas were very common.

They are a very easy party snack. They can be assembled quickly using a variety of toppings. Above I topped them with refried pinto beans, chopped avocado, Salsa Xni Pec, cilantro and cheese (queso fresco).

Above I topped the tostada with refried black beans, tomatillo salsa, cilantro and shredded cheese (queso Chihuahua).

Tostadas can be made at home by either frying corn tortillas in oil or by baking them on an ungreased cookie sheet for a couple of minutes in the oven, until they become stiff. Incidentally, that is how freshly made tortilla chips are made at restaurants, by frying corn tortillas in oil. The only difference is that they cut the tortillas into triangles first. Anyway, for an easy option, the tostadas can also be purchased, as seen below:

Below is another easy thing to do with tostadas. Simply top them with shredded cheese and then melt the cheese either briefly in the oven or in the microwave for about 10 seconds. Where I grew up in Michigan, we called this snack Chips and Cheese. You can do the same thing using tortilla chips instead of tostadas. Pictured below, I also topped it with a bit of picante sauce.

Another variations is to top the tostadas or tortilla chips with beans or other toppings and cheese and then baking them for a few minutes in the oven to melt the cheese. I have heard people refer to that as Nachos or Mexican Pizza. I have found that throughout the US, people call variations of these snacks by all sorts of different names.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Salsa Xni Pec and Ceviche de San Felipe

Xni Pec is the Yucatecan version of the salsa known as Pico de Gallo that is prepared throughout Mexico. The recipe I am providing has an alternate ceviche variation that hails from the San Felipe area of Yucatan, an area on the Gulf Coast where fishing is the main industry. To make vegetarian ceviche, try adding some chopped zucchini or cucumber or experiment with other vegetables - just be sure to let it marinate before serving.

Xni Pec

  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped (I used orange tomatoes, any tomatoes work)
  • at least 2 tablespoons or up to a quarter of a minced onion* (I used red onion for the color)
  • a handful of fresh, chopped cilantro
  • the juice of one lime
  • 1/2 of an habanero chile, diced OR 1 serrano chile diced (habanero is more authentic to Yucatan - but be careful, habanero is extremely hot!)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Stir the ingredients and serve. Use as a dip with tortilla chips or as a salsa for tacos or other dishes.

*Note: this is not required, but I usually blanch the minced onion briefly in piping hot water before adding it. This ensures that the onion flavor doesn't dominate.

Ceviche de San Felipe

  • Add 2 or 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil to the above recipe
  • Add extra onion, if desired, and extra vegetables (such as chopped zucchini or cucumber) for vegetarian ceviche, if desired. Let marinate before serving.

This also makes a nice side salad if you cut the vegetables into large pieces. I have seen on other blogs using sliced hearts of palm or mushrooms and other vegetables in vegetarian ceviche. It is worth experimenting.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Roasted Poblano Polenta

I wish I had remembered to photograph this dish right after I finished cooking it. This polenta was very creamy the first day and would have made a mouth-watering photo. But after the leftovers were put in the refrigerator, the polenta changed in consistency to become firmer, as shown in the photo. The leftovers may not have been quite as photogenic, but they were still delicious! This dish was a hit. The flavor of corn goes so well with poblano peppers, garlic and cheese. When you use quick-cooking polenta, this dish is finished in a flash and is so easy.

Roasted Poblano Polenta

1 cup of quick-cooking polenta
3 cups* of liquid (water or a combination of water and vegetable stock)
pinch of salt
1 poblano pepper, roasted, then seeded and cut into strips
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, roasted, then peeled and chopped
a handful of shredded cheese (I used cheddar) or more if you prefer it cheesier

Heat the liquid in a saucepan over high heat. When the water is just coming to a boil, lower the heat and pour in the polenta in slow stream, stirring constantly. Continue stirring and add a bit of salt, the poblano pepper and garlic. Stir constantly until most of the water is absorbed. Add the cheese and stir. Continue stirring and simmering until it is the consistency you desire, either creamy or firm. My polenta was done after 2 minutes total of stirring.

TIP: roast the pepper and the garlic cloves on a hot ungreased cast iron griddle on your stove top over medium-high heat, turning every couple of minutes until all sides are soft. It really doesn't take long at all, especially for the garlic. Set aside to cool so you don't burn yourself when you peel and cut them.

*Verify the amount of liquid that your package of quick cooking polenta suggests for one cup of dry polenta.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Spicy Greens

We love greens at our house. I didn't grow up eating them at all. Greens can be very strong and bitter tasting, so it seems they have a bad reputation. But, if they are prepared nicely, the bitterness subsides. Some of my favorite things to add to greens are: olive oil, lots of garlic, vinegar, and anything spicy.

Above is how I can often find greens sold at my local farmer's market. I can find people slicing them into strips right in their stalls, so I know they are very freshly chopped. I find it to be a real time saver, as bunches of greens otherwise come in huge bundles which can be hard to deal with. Just be sure to eat the chopped greens soon after buying them. Also, be sure to wash greens very thoroughly before preparing them. Place them in a sink full of water and swish them around at least three separate times, rinsing well.

Spicy Greens

  • Sliced, washed greens (I used collard greens)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • sliced garlic (can you have too much garlic? I use at least 3 cloves, usually more)
  • salt and pepper
  • your favorite picante sauce, to taste OR red pepper flakes and a generous dash of your favorite vinegar

Boil a large pot of water. Add the washed greens and boil for about 5 minutes. You will see the color change a bit, becoming darker green. Rinse and spin in a salad spinner to remove excess water. Or once cool to touch, squeeze out the excess water using your hands.

Heat the oil in the large pot. Add the garlic and a dash of your picante sauce (or some red pepper flakes) and then the greens. Sautee for several minutes, letting the flavors blend and the greens soften to the texture you desire. Some people like them on the crisp side while others like them practically soggy.

Serve with a dash of vinegar or more of your favorite picante sauce, to the spice level desired.