Chewy Tofu In An Apricot, Chipotle and Tamarind Sauce: Vegan Mexican

I like to think I was Mexican in another life. I love traveling through this warm and beautiful country, its food appeals most to my tastebuds (after Indian, of course), and I even look a little Mexican with my olive skin and dark hair. Ever so often someone speaking Spanish approaches me on the street to ask for directions, or a salesperson tries to make me feel comfortable by breaking into what they assume must be my native language. They even look a little incredulous when I explain to them that I don’t speak a word of Spanish.

Lately my kitchen has started looking a lot like a Mexican one too. I’ve packed my refrigerator and my kitchen cupboards with fresh and dry chillies of every kind, I’ve been confounding Desi with words like “piloncillo,” “jamaica,” and “achiote,” and I’ve been dropping hints several times each day about that tortilla press I don’t have to use up all the masa flour sitting in the pantry.


Part of the reason why I’ve become an even greater fan of Mexican food in recent weeks is this very addictive PBS show, Pati’s Mexican Table, where the chef, Pati Jinich, shares recipes from her childhood in Mexico. This relatively new show has edged out my other PBS favorite, Rick Bayless’s Mexico: One Plate at a Time, because while Bayless’s show is quite wonderful, his recipes appear rather sophisticated since they are adapted to suit American tastes. Pati– who grew up in Mexico and is now a fellow Washingtonian– creates what seem to be truly authentic, often rustic recipes that you can actually imagine folks in Mexico cooking up in their kitchens for dinner.

A lot of the recipes in Pati’s Mexican Table contain animal ingredients, but the sauces and bases also pack a lot of flavor that comes from the plant-based ingredients that go into these dishes (she does a great job describing these flavors with vivid imagery). Recently, I watched her cook up chicken with tamarind, chipotle peppers, and apricots. The sauce sounded so flavorful that the chicken only appeared an unnecessary intrusion.

So I went into my kitchen and got cooking.

I got a block of firm tofu, squeezed the water out of it, then baked it to chewy perfection.

I soaked some tamarind, then separated the incredibly tangy water and added some piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar) to make the base of my sauce.

I chopped up some gorgeously orange dried apricots, and scooped out some smoky and fiery chipotle chili sauce.

Dinner was amazing. This sauce is perfect drizzled over some rice, and you could very well serve it some spicy Mexican rice.

Oh, I feel so Mexican right now. Enjoy!

Chewy Tofu in Apricot, Chipotle and Tamarind Sauce

(Makes 4 servings)

Ingredients:

1 block firm or extra-firm tofu. Press out most of the water by swaddling the block of tofu, then placing in a colander. Place a weight on it, like a saucepan, and leave alone for an hour for most of the water to drain out. Spray a baking pan lightly with some oil, place the tofu on it, and spray the top lightly with some oil. Bake in a 400-degree oven 30 minutes, then flip over and bake another 20 minutes. Let the tofu cool, then cut it into 3/4-inch cubes.

1 tsp olive or other vegetable oil

4 cups mushrooms, preferably mixed for more texture. I used cremini and shiitake. Chop them into fairly large chunks.

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Salt to taste

3/4 cup dried apricots, sliced

1 recipe tamarind sauce (recipe below)

2 tsp sauce from a can of chipotle chilis in adobo sauce

2 tbsp apricot preserves

Heat a saucepan and add the oil. Add the mushrooms, pepper and salt and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms start to caramelize and turn golden, about 10 minutes.

Add all the remaining ingredients– the tofu, apricots, apricot preserve, tamarind sauce, and adobo sauce. Add 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes until the apricots are quite soft.

Add salt to taste. Serve hot.

Tamarind Sauce

Ingredients:

1 large lemon-size ball of tamarind soaked in 2 cups of boiling water for about half an hour. Strain out the solids and reserve the liquid.

1/2 cup piloncillo, grated (this unrefined sugar is separated at birth from jaggery a popular sweetener in Indian cooking). Use brown sugar if you don’t have this.

1 tbsp lime juice

Salt to taste

Place the tamarind liquid, piloncillo, lime juice and salt in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until reduced by half. The liquid will be thick and syrupy.

Nutrition estimate per serving: Calories 172, Total Fat  3.3 grams, Cholesterol 0 mg, Potassium 591.4 mg, Dietary Fiber 3.4 grams, Sugar 21.3 grams, Protein 6.4 grams

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Pappardelle Pasta With Roasted Tomato Chipotle Sauce

It’s Christmas Eve and the neighborhood is looking really pretty. Yards are draped with multicolored lights and inside windows you can catch glimpses of ornamented Christmas trees. It’s all quite picture-perfect except at the malls, I’m sure, where it’s a mad rush and you won’t catch me within a mile of those during this season (or most times, for that matter).

I was planning to post some more cookie recipes for you last week, but my oven went on the fritz and will remain quite useless until next week when the repair service arrives. Everything works a little slower around the holidays, but how could anyone be mad about that?

It’s probably a good thing too, because I had been on a bit of a sugar high these past few weeks with all that cake- and cookie-baking. Having to rely solely on my cooktop and my tiny toaster oven for all my cooking, I’ve gotten a little ahead of myself and started coming up with healthy recipes in anticipation of that inevitable New Year resolution: weight loss.

You know I like to cook healthy most times, but I am not one of those people who can stomach bland albeit wholesome food. I love food, and I like it to be delicious: a luxurious treat for my tastebuds. My Pappardelle Pasta with Roasted Tomato Chipotle Sauce proves food does not have to be high-calorie to be rich, nor dripping with grease to taste great.

I combined ingredients from two strong yet diverse cuisines for this recipe: Mexican and Italian. The Roasted Tomato Chipotle sauce is a Mexican classic, made — as the name suggests– with roasted tomatoes and chipotle chilies, and it is a spicy, versatile sauce you can serve with enchiladas, tacos, burritos, or even as a chip dip.

To adapt this sauce for pasta I stuck with the traditional recipe and then, at the very end, I added some cashew cream to mellow out the spicy sting. It was perfect. Keeping up with the roasted veggie theme and to balance the spice, I roasted a trio of sweet, multicolored bell peppers and added them to the pasta along with some sweet basil.

This is an easy and quick recipe, and the only time you need to make it is to roast the veggies and boil the pasta, but most of that does not require constant monitoring. There’s also almost no added fat in here, except the 1/2 tsp olive oil in the recipe and some healthy fat from the cashews. But no one would ever be able to tell, because the flavors are so bold and rich.

I used Pappardelle, a broad ribbon that is one of my favorite pastas, but fettucini would also be great for this sauce.

A quick note about toaster ovens: I rarely use mine to make toast, and more often to roast, heat and brown foods– stuff I don’t need precise temperature control for, like I would for baking a bread or cake. It turns out to be more energy efficient too because toaster ovens are much smaller than regular ovens and heat up much faster.

I’ll leave you with all of my best wishes for a lovely, lovely holiday and a very merry Christmas. May all be well with the world.

Pappardelle Pasta with Roasted Tomato Chipotle Sauce

(Makes four servings)

Ingredients:

1 8-oz package pappardelle pasta. Cook until al dente per package instructions.

2 large ripe tomatoes.

2 jalapeno peppers (use one or skip altogether if you want a milder sauce)

1/2 chipotle chili in adobo sauce

5 cloves garlic, skins on

1/2 tsp olive oil

Salt to taste

1/4 cup cashews, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes, then ground into a fine, very smooth paste.

10-12 leaves of Italian basil, torn

Heat a heavy skillet and then place the whole tomatoes on it. If your skillet is large enough, place the jalapenos and the garlic cloves with skins on in the skillet too. If not, roast these one at a time.

Roast the tomatoes until the skin starts to char and brown spots appear. Turn them around and let them cook on all sides until the skin is fairly browned. Do the same for the jalepenos and the garlic.

Remove everything to a plate. I like to roast the tomatoes further in an oven to intensify the sweetness. So cut the tomatoes in half and put them in an oven-safe dish, cut side up, and place in a 500-degree preheated oven for 20 minutes.

Once the tomatoes cool, place them in a blender along with the jalapeno peppers (deseed them if you are sensitive to heat) and the chipotle chili. Peel the garlic and add it to the blender too.

Blend the tomatoes into a puree. You don’t need to add more water– there’s enough liquid in the tomatoes to help you along.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the tomato-chipotle mixture to the skillet and cook until it is reduced to the consistency of tomato paste and has become darker, about 8-10 minutes.

Add the cashew cream and mix well.

Add salt to taste. You can also add some ground black pepper for more flavor, but I find that there is already enough heat in the sauce.

Add the cooked pasta, basil, and strips of roasted bell peppers (instructions below) and toss.

Roasted bell peppers:

3 medium bell peppers (use any color. I used one red, one green, and one yellow)

Place the bell peppers in an oven-safe dish with deep sides (don’t use a flat plate because some juices might run from the peppers).

Preheat an oven to 500 degrees. Place the peppers in the oven and let them roast, turning them occasionally, until the skin is evenly brown and charred.

Cool the peppers and then peel off the skin and remove seeds. Cut into thin strips and add to the pasta.

Nutrition estimate per serving: Calories 368, Total fat 8.6 grams, Dietary fiber 4.9 grams, Sugar 2 grams, Protein 12.6 grams

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Bolillos (Mexican Rolls)

Before I share today’s recipe– scrumptious, crusty Mexican rolls called Bolillos that are like little football-shaped baguettes– let me reveal the winner of last week’s giveaway of Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s new book, Vegan Pie in the Sky. Thanks to all of you who participated and took the time to Facebook and Tweet the giveaway. You’re all winners in my book, but alas I have just one copy to give away. And it goes to, hold your breaths: MikeC.

MikeC, congratulations and please send your mailing address to MyVeganWorld@gmail.com so the publisher can mail you a copy of the book and you can start making some vegan pie!

As for the rest, I have something for you too–  these Bolillos are my new favorite bread because not only are they delicious being all crusty on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside, but they are really cute to look at too. These are the breads used famously to make tortas, or sandwiches, sold all over Mexico. You halve them, dig out some of the soft, fluffy bread to make a shallow hole, stuff it with something equally delicious like refried beans, guacamole and salsa, and then stuff your face. Heaven.

Here’s the recipe. Enjoy, all!

Bolillos:

(Makes 12 rolls)

Ingredients:

2 1/4 tsp or 1 package active dry yeast

2 cups warm water

1 tsp sugar

4 – 4 1/2 cups high-gluten bakers’ flour (alternately use bread flour)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp vegetable shortening

Mix the sugar, water and yeast and set aside to froth and bubble, about 5 minutes.

Add the shortening broken into small pieces, salt and 3 cups of flour and mix by hand or in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook at a low setting.

Add more flour, a little at a time, until the dough comes together and is smooth but not sticky. Knead by hand or in a stand mixer on a low setting for 10 minutes. You should have a really soft, smooth, very supple and beautiful ball of dough at the end of it.

Spray some oil on the inside of a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, turning over once to coat the top with some oil.

Cover with a kitchen towel and place in a warm spot (I put it in a cold oven with the light turned on) for about an hour or until it has doubled.

Remove the dough to a platform. Knead briefly, and then divide into 12 equal pieces.

Roll each piece between your palms to make an oval, about 4 – 4 1/2 inches long, and taper the sides.

Place the rolls on a lightly greased baking sheet, at least 3 inches apart. Cover with a kitchen towel and let them rise in a warm spot for 30-45 minutes or until puffy and almost doubled.

Using a sharp knife or blade, score the rolls from one tapered end to the other, leaving about 1 cm on either side. Brush the tops with some oil for a pretty golden color.

Place the rolls in a preheated 375-degree oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden. When you tap on the bottom of a roll, it should sound hollow– that’s how you know it’s done.

Remove to a rack and let them cool a little before eating. These reheat really beautifully.

My Bolillos are off to Susan’s YeastSpotting. This week’s host is Bewitching Kitchen.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Savory Avocado Quesadillas With Rainbow Chard And Tomato Chutney

Desi loves nothing more than a nap on Saturday afternoons. So while he’s communing with the z’s, I curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and whatever’s cooking on public television. One of my favorite shows  is Rick Bayless’s Mexico: One Plate at a Time.

Mexican food is very vegan-friendly, notwithstanding appearances, and as I watch this show– and any other– my mind is constantly thinking of ways to swap out the meat for something delicious and plant-based. Recently, as I watched Bayless rave about quesadillas made with wheat tortillas and how pork fat added to the dough makes the most “savory quesadillas imaginable,” I couldn’t stop thinking, there has to be something to rival that– no, better that– in the plant world.

The answer was already in my kitchen, and even better, it was perhaps more Mexican than pork fat– avocado.

The buttery Avocado makes a perfect substitute for fat in breads. Some of you have already tried my Avocado Brioche, one of the early recipes to feature here on Holy Cow!, where the avocados stand in  for the butter to create a flaky, buttery, butterless brioche. But the fat in avocados, unlike animal fats, is incredibly heart healthy. Avocados also contain multiple vitamins, potassium and folate. And just as you begin to think that they can’t get any more virtuous, they go and surprise you by being one of the most delicious foods you will ever eat. Try and beat that, pork fat!

To make my quesadillas truly savory and bursting with sunny Mexican flavor, I pureed up the avocados with some mint and a jalapeno pepper before mixing them in with the dough. The result was flaky and crispy and supremely delicious. And the fun didn’t stop there. I made some tomato chutney spiked with the fire of chipotle peppers and stir-fried some rainbow chard and red peppers to stuff into my quesadillas. To hold it all together, I topped off the fillings with some grated vegan queso. Yum.

One tip on grating the vegan mozarella: freeze the cheese for at least an hour before you attempt to grate it– it grates perfectly and melts easily when added to the quesadilla. You could, of course, leave out the cheese and still have an impossibly delicious quesadilla.

Enjoy, all!

Savory Avocado and Herb Tortillas

Ingredients:

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour (this is important if you want a flaky, crispy tortilla. An all-wheat tortilla will be tasty but will be soft and not quesadilla-like)

1 ripe avocado, peeled, pit removed, then passed through a potato ricer or mashed smooth.

10 mint leaves

1 jalapeno or other fairly hot green pepper

Water for kneading

Salt to taste

Place the flours and salt in a bowl.

In a blender, process the avocado, mint and jalapeno until you have a fairly fine paste. Use water if needed to keep the blender blades running.

Make a well in the flour and pour in the avocado puree. Knead it in with your fingers. Add more water if needed to get a smooth dough. Place in an airtight box and set aside at least half an hour. (Instructions on how to roll the quesadillas follow)

Tomato Chutney with Chipotle

Chipotle is a very Mexican flavor, and here I used it to give an Indian-style tomato chutney a uniquely Mexican avatar.

Ingredients:

6 medium tomatoes, perfectly ripe

1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, with 1 tsp of the liquid. Chop the chili really fine. (If you are sensitive to too much heat, cut this down by half or less)

1 small onion, minced

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp garlic powder or adobo seasoning

Coriander for garnish

Oil to spray

Salt to taste

Spray a skillet with oil. Add the onions and the sugar and saute until they start to soften and brown spots appear.

Add the tomatoes and the chipotle chili and sauce. Stir well and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the juice from the tomatoes has evaporated. You don’t want a soggy quesadilla, so it is important there is no visible liquid in your chutney.

Turn off the heat and add the chopped cilantro.

Rainbow Chard with Red Peppers

Ingredients:

1 bunch rainbow or green Swiss chard (about 6 large leaves), washed thoroughly and then chopped into thin strips.

1 large red bell pepper, cut into thin strips

1 tbsp sesame seeds

3 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced

Oil to spray

Spray a skillet with oil. Add the sesame seeds and stir. When they turn a shade darker, add the garlic and toss together for a few seconds.

Add the swiss chard and stir until it begins to reduce.

Add the red bell peppers. Cook, stirring frequently, until the peppers are tender enough but are still bright red and have a bite to them.

Add salt to taste.

To assemble the quesadilla:

Heat a nonstick or cast-iron griddle and spray with some oil.

Divide the avocado tortilla dough into 10 equal pieces and shape each into a smooth ball.

Using a rolling pin, roll out each ball into a tortilla, about 7 inches in diameter.

Place the tortilla on the hot skillet. When bubbles appear, turn over and cook until golden-brown spots appear on the underside.

Flip over again. Place some chard and then some chutney just off the center. Top with some vegan cheese, like vegan mozzarella, if you like.

Flip one half of the quesadilla over the top of the filling and press down with your spatula. Take off the griddle after about 30 seconds.

Cut the quesadilla into halves, or serve as is rightaway.

***

Friends and acquaintances sometimes ask me why I just give away my best recipes for free. My answer has always been this: I want to make it as easy as possible for people to eat and cook animal-free food, especially Indian vegan food. And I don’t want them to have to go to the trouble of buying a cookbook to find delicious recipes that are healthy and meat-free.

But even when we are not in it for the profit, bloggers like me do trust and hope– sometimes against the odds– that our best ideas will not be stolen.

Happily most bloggers are scrupulously honest about giving credit where credit is due. Some are even conscientious enough to ask me before they post a recipe which, though not necessary, is a nice gesture. So imagine my shock when recently a blogger I thought I knew well not only used my idea of substituting avocado for butter in her version of a brioche, but also– cool as a cucumber– took credit for it. Now the reason I know this blogger did not coincidentally think of the substitution herself is because she had written to me more than two years ago about how inspired she had been by my avocado brioche recipe and made various versions of it.

I want everyone to try my recipes, and if you are a blogger you are free to post them to your blog so long as you don’t forget to mention Holy Cow! as the source. When I cook from the recipes of other cooks and bloggers, which I do all the time, I never forget to credit them in my posts. To my mind, there is no shame in being inspired by someone else’s originality. But stealing ideas– that’s awful.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Mojo de Ajo

Mojo de AjoFew recipes have made me as excited and eager to get into the kitchen and start peeling four nail-burning heads of garlic as when I saw Rick Bayless stir up some garlic-gold alchemy on public television with his Mojo de Ajo.

Mojo de Ajo, which apparently translates into a bath of garlic, is a traditional Mexican dish with infinitely delicious possibilities, and you can see why. Think of a ton of spicy garlic drowned in fruity olive oil and then kissed alive by tangy lemon juice. It’s magic.

Mojo de Ajo is great on almost anything: drizzle a few drops on toast or a salad, stir it into pasta, even toss some root vegetables in it and roast them. And of course, there’s a plethora of Mexican dishes you can add it to for some extra mojo at the dinner table.

So here it is, Rick Bayless’s incredible Mojo de Ajo, which I used today to spice up an extra-special dish of penne with herbs and roasted mushrooms. It was worth firing up the oven on a near-100-degree day.

Enjoy!

Mojo de Ajo
 
Rick Bayless’s Mojo de Ajo
Author:
Recipe type: Condiment
Cuisine: Mexican
Ingredients
  • 4 heads of garlic, peeled (place a large chef’s knife on each pod of garlic and smack it with the heel of your hand to get the papery skin off more easily)
  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup lemon juice
Instructions
  1. Place the garlic in an 8-inch-square glass baking dish and pour the olive oil over it. Add salt and stir well.
  2. Place the dish in a 325-degree oven and bake 45 minutes.
  3. Add the lemon juice and bake for another 20 minutes for the flavors to infuse.
  4. Remove, mash the garlic with a fork or potato masher, cool, and pour it all into an air-tight glass jar. The mojo de ajo keeps for at least three months in a refrigerator.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.