Vegetarian Enchiladas

This is a story about Mexican food. Or rather, pseudo-Mexican food, as I’m pretty sure they aren’t hawking these on the streets of Oaxaca. But it’s darn tasty food, and hence I’m sharing it with you.

I’m a sucker for Mexican, and to be honest, after three years in Boston, I still haven’t found a place that I love. Masa is ok, but it’s more fusion than Mexican. Border Cafe doesn’t quite cut it, and Tu y Yo is rather inconsistent. If you have suggestions for good Mexican or TexMex, pretty please leave them below.

For the past three+ years, whenever I get a hankering for Mexican I end up making it myself. This has resulted in some kind of gross quesadillas with refried beans and also some pretty awesome huevos rancheros. Mostly, it’s been the former.

To me, good Mexican is all about the tortilla. And there is only one kind of tortilla: corn. Please, please don’t come at me with one of those tasteless flour things. (Side note: I have bought “corn tortillas” from Market Basket and found they were actually flour ones. Beware!) Corn, however, I am obsessed with. In the heat of the moment I’m not above grilling a tortilla on the stove and slathering it with butter or cream cheese, a charming trick I learned when living in Costa Rica.

Last month, my friend Maria and I decided to host a Cinco de Mayo party. Of course, we couldn’t get our act together and we had to have the party on May 14, but it was a good time nonetheless. On the menu: guacamole, chicken enchiladas, veggie enchiladas, rice and beans and a tres leches (recipe to come!). It doesn’t happen very often, but I was actually more excited about the veggie enchiladas, and in the end, I thought they came out better. So that is the recipe I’m sharing with you today.

The picture above is the only photographic proof I have of their existence… that was them in the pan on the left.

Rather than a traditional chili sauce, these enchiladas are smothered in a creamy corn sauce, spiked with garlic and chili. Because everything gets toasted before it’s put in, it’s nice and smokey with just a hint of spice. And despite copious amounts of cheese, the abundance of spinach, zucchini and mushrooms makes them almost seem good for you.

Vegetarian enchiladas with corn sauce (and optional pepita pesto)
(adapted from Eating Well)

For the corn sauce:
2 whole cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 10-ounce packages frozen corn, thawed
2 cups low-fat milk
1 small can green chiles
1 roasted jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped (add more or less depending on your heat tolerance)
1/2 teaspoon Cholula sauce (or your favorite hot sauce)
3 drops liquid smoke (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste

For the enchiladas:
8 ounces mushrooms, diced
10 ounces fresh spinach, chopped
1 small onion, diced
2 small zucchini, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces cream cheese
24 corn tortillas
1 cup grated cheese (half cheddar, half jack)

For the pesto (optional):
1/3 cup hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2 jalapeños, quartered and seeded (adjust to taste)
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice

To prepare corn sauce: Roast garlic in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, shaking the pan often, until the skin is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add half the corn and roast, stirring often, until lightly toasted. Reserve the garlic; transfer the corn to a blender or food processor. Toast the remaining corn. Place all but 1/2 cup of the corn in the blender. Peel garlic and add to blender along with milk  and blend until smooth. Stir in reserved corn. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To prepare enchiladas: Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat two 9-by-13-inch baking dishes with cooking spray.

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and onion, and cook, stirring often, until softened. Add zucchini and cook until softened, then finally add the spinach and cook until wilted. (You may have to do this in batches.) Drain off excess liquid. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Stir in cream cheese and mix until evenly combined.

Heat tortillas  in a toaster oven, the regular oven, or in a pan on the stove. Heating them will reduce breakage when you roll the enchiladas.

Sprinkle a scant tablespoon of cheese down the center of a warm tortilla and cover with roughly 1/4 cup of the veggie mixture. Fold one side of the tortilla over the filling, then roll up tightly, like a cigar. Place the enchilada seam-side down in the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, cheese and veggie  mixture to create a single layer of enchiladas in each pan. Then, spoon corn sauce over the enchiladas, covering completely. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover baking dish with foil. Bake for 25 minutes, or until heated through. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes more.

For the pesto: Toast pumpkin seeds in a heavy skillet or toaster oven until just slightly darkened. Place in a blender or food processor with jalapeños, cilantro, sour cream and lime juice. Blend until smooth. Season with salt.

Top the enchiladas with the pesto and serve. Makes enough to feed a crowd of 10. Or 6, if you want leftovers (they re-heat really well!).

Filipino food

Garlic, vinegar and soy sauce simmering on the stove: the scent of my grandmother’s signature adobo dominated my childhood. It signaled that something special was about to happen, perhaps a big family celebration, though, the appearance of adobo on our table was a sort of celebration in itself. Made of chunks of chicken and pork marinated and then cooked for hours, it was always fork tender, a savory treat that left you burping garlic for days.

Adobo is the national dish of the Philippines. You can’t read a story about Filipino cooking without finding a recipe for it. Case in point:

Unfortunately, Filipino food as a whole is largely overlooked. I’m guilty of doing so in my own kitchen and I grew up with it. Every time my sister and I cook Filipino food we look at each other across the table and say, “Why don’t we do this more often?”

Some think it could be the next Thai or Korean food, and I wouldn’t be surprised. Filipino food is one of the earliest fusion cuisines, blending the available indigenous plants with the cooking techniques of their Spanish colonizers (which included my ancestors). Though it can be easily adapted to less adventurous palates, authentic Filipino food consists of a healthy dose of tripe, foot and pig blood, perfect for nose to tail eating. It’s also about as diverse as the archipelago that it comes from. Recipes and techniques vary from island to island, and they all claim that their’s is the “authentic” way.

Folks on the west coast seem to have ample options, but around here there’s really only one: JNJ Turo Turo in Quincy. Despite the fact that there are almost 12,000 Filipinos in Massachusetts, according to the 2000 Census, JNJ is the ONLY Filipino restaurant in New England. If you’ve never had Filipino food, JNJ is a great way to get introduced. Start off with some lumpia (little fried egg rolls) and then move onto the pancit (noodles). Their adobo isn’t as good as my grandmother’s, but it’ll do in a pinch. And they have plenty of the more exotic fare (what they call “super authentic”) like sisig: grilled and chopped pork, pork’s ears, and liver, seasoned with onions, hot peppers, ginger and lemon juice.

Your other option is to try cooking Filipino at home. There are tons of recipes for adobo on the internet, so I won’t give you another one here. Instead I’d encourage you to make something veg-heavy to go along with your adobo. Namely, mongo. Most of the Filipino recipes involving mung beans that I’ve seen are soupy, but in my family mongo has always been a side dish, sort of like a lentil.

In case you aren’t familiar with them, these are mung beans.

You can usually buy them at your local Asian market. You can also get them at the Surepinoy Food Market in Quincy, which is right next to JNJ Turo Turo (they have tons of other great Filipino foods as well), and I’m sure the H-Mart in Burlington has them.

The bag will look something like this and cost about $2.

What I like most about this recipe is that it’s got three kinds of greens in it, and hence is full of goodness. Though the recipe below calls for bok choy, I happened to have a big bunch of kale in the fridge that needed cooking, so I swapped it in. If you’re short on veg, it’s great with just one green (like spinach). But it’s amazing with three (I love greens!).

Of course, all these greens are going to look really hefty when you put them in a pot. You might wonder how on earth you’ll eat all that.

Don’t worry, it’ll cook down. See?

This takes about an hour to cook. Like I said, it’s great as a side for adobo. Or if you have a bunch of vegetarians coming over and need something hearty, this will definitely do the trick. (Hello, Meatless Monday?)

The other cool think about this is that aside from mung beans and a can of coconut milk, which you will use up in this recipe, you don’t need any special ingredients or spices. I hate it when I buy a jar of something for a recipe and then whatever is left just sits in the cabinet until kingdom come.

I hope you’ll give it a try and let me know how you like it. And if you’re interested in learning more about Filipino food, check out Burnt Lumpia, Market Manila and My Filipino Kitchen.

Mongo a la deLuzuriaga

2 cloves garlic, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 acorn squash OR 1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
8 cups vegetable OR chicken stock
2-3 cups mung beans
1 bunch Swiss chard, roughly chopped
1 lb spinach, washed
1 lb baby bok choy
1 14 oz. can coconut milk (optional)

Heat a splash of olive (or vegetable) oil in a large pot (probably the biggest one you have) and saute the diced garlic and onion. Let soften about two minutes and then add the squash. Stir around and let brown. Add half the stock, mung beans and greens, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 30 to 45 minutes, adding more stock as it gets absorbed. When beans are tender, add coconut milk, if desired, and cook another 10 minutes. Serve as a side, or with rice as a main dish.

Spring salad

The trees are budding, the grass is greening and the weather is warming. It’s finally spring!

I’m so grateful to open the windows of my apartment, to not have to wear a million layers and to be able run outside on the esplanade. Unfortunately, it seemed like everyone in Boston had the same idea this weekend… the place was packed.

As things start growing, my body craves the fresh, green flavors of the season. I thought that my latest issue of Bon Appetit would offer some inspiration with it’s cover story “The Elements of Spring,” but the one that called to me came a few pages earlier in the form of a chickpea salad article/recipe by blogger Molly Wizenberg. “The beauty of this recipe is that it can be tweaked in numerous ways,”  she wrote. Music to my ears.

I made it the way she suggested, and it was everything one could want. Easy. Cheap. Flavorful. But my mind was working, remembering an article on radishes in that same Bon Appetit issue, and then craving a salad I had at Sportello a few weeks ago with shrimp, arugula and shaved radish. I’ve long considered radishes too bitter for everyday consumption. But the Sportello salad had shaved radish- just a hint of sass, like arugula’s badass girl friend. I wondered for a few seconds how to mandolin a radish without cutting my fingers off, and then realized using a vegetable peeler would accomplish the same end without the risk.

A new dish began to take shape.

The chickpeas make this hearty enough to bring for lunch, while the radish and lemon brighten everything up. Kind of like a dose of sunshine on a spring day.

Spring salad
(inspired by Bon Appetit)
1 15 oz can chickpeas drained
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I use half a lemon)
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 ounce shaved parmesan cheese (I use a vegetable peeler to do this)
5 shaved radishes (again, vegetable peeler)
a few handfuls of greens (spinach or arugula… adjust the quantity to your liking)

In a medium-sized bowl combine the drained chickpeas with herbs, garlic, oil and lemon juice. Add cheese and stir well. You can stop here and let the flavors meld overnight, or you can go right on and make the salad. In which case, combine the radish and greens and toss. Serves 2 to 3, depending on your appetite. (You could also serve 4 by adding more greens.)