Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Viva Vegan!" Cookbook

I had planned to have this post up at the beginning of May, but I had to fly to the SF Bay Area to visit my parents.  My dad had a fall and was hospitalized, then transferred to a rehab facility, so I extended my planned trip to 11 days.  Fortunately, he is doing much, much better!
Spicy Tortilla Casserole w/Roasted Poblanos
Back in March while still in Tucson, I decided to buy a cookbook, "Viva Vegan!" by Terry Hope Romero, since I thought it would be appropriate for Mexico.  I am such a "gringa" that the only vaguely Latin dishes I ever made were veggie tacos, chili, burritos, and of course (!) - guacamole.

As for cookbooks, I still use my first vegan cookbook from 1989, "The American Vegetarian Cookbook" by Marilyn Diamond.  It has a lot of information, from answers to the "BIG" vegan questions, to reference tables at the back for vitamins and nutrients in foods.  I have used the simple recipes in that book for over 20 years, often changing or spring-boarding from them, as has been appropriate.

So -  I was "stepping out" by buying a cookbook, and choosing to learn something new.  At first glance, the recipes seemed daunting because they seemed to refer you to another recipe on another page, that was a component of the first recipe.  But, on second perusal, it started to make sense, and I was getting used to seeing names like arepas, sopes, empanadas and pupusas.

I actually LOVE this cookbook; I have really learned a lot - and the recipes are easy (if foreign).  It does not hurt that the author, Terry Hope Romero, is sharp, witty and upbeat, as well as encouraging - really charming!  I had no idea how easy it is to make a delicious tomato sauce, by adding cumin, oregano, and lime juice to the onions and garlic that I have always used.  Oh, did I mention?  Neither Ted nor I like "hot" spicy food, whether it be Thai, Korean, Latin - no, thank you.  I simply omitted the serrano/jalapeno/ancho chiles when called for -- and the result was still delicious - more so to us, because we could eat it!

I wrote to Terry Hope Romero to ask if I could blog about her recipes and she said she'd be delighted.  And so, our favorite so far (I have made it 5 times) is the Spicy Tortilla Casserole with Roasted Poblanos.

Here in Mexico, we eat what's in season.  Right now, that includes poblano chilis, and so we keep eating them (no one says, "What?  Poblano chilis again?")  They are in the supermarkets and the street markets, all for a very low price.  (I also found them at the supermarket in the Bay Area, labelled as "pasilla" chilis.)  If you don't like "spicy", don't be concerned - think of this as a bell pepper that has HOT seeds (which you will remove).
Roasting the poblano chile peppers

Serves 6, or 4 to 5 generously
Time:  about 1 1/2 hours

1 1/2 pounds white potatoes, peeled
1 pound poblano chiles (about 4 large chiles)
1 small white onion, minced
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
**** 2 to 3 serrano or jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded (if less heat is desired), and chopped **** ( I left these out COMPLETELY!)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon  dried Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt (I substituted granulated kelp)
2 tablespoons peanut oil (I used vegetable oil, as that's what I had)
1 cup vegetable broth
1 pound corn tortillas, preferably a few days old - 14 to 16 tortillas (I used less than half that number)
1 recipe Pine Nut Crema (see below)
1 tablespoons pumpkin seeds (pepitas) or pine nuts
Chopped fresh cilantro and thinly sliced onions and lime wedges, for garnish

Potatoes in the pot....

     1.  Roughly chop the potatoes, place them in a large saucepan, and fill with enough cold water to cover.  Bring to a boil over high heat, partially cover, and cook for 14 to 16 minutes, or until tender.  Drain and set aside.  When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, press into large crumbles.
Roasted chiles, cooling on the counter

     2.  Meanwhile, over a gas burner, roast each whole, intact poblano chile.  Use metal tongs to turn the chile several times over the flame until its skin is blackened, sizzling, and blistered, 3 to 5 minutes.  Place the roasted chile into a tightly covered container or a sealed paper bag. (I skipped that and left them on the counter.)  Repeat with remaining chiles.  Alternatively, you can roast all the chiles on a rimmed baking sheet at 450 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until their skin is blackened and the chiles have collapsed.  (This works, too!  I had to use this method when visiting my parents in the Bay Area, as they don't have a gas range with an open flame.)  Allow the chiles to cool enough to be handled.  Gently remove their skin, split open, cut away the stem and seed base, and remove any seeds. (I used a paring knife to "scrape" the blackened skin off; as you see from the picture, it's not necessary to get off every tiny bit of skin.  I also wore rubber gloves the first time I made this; I was so afraid that the "hot" seeds would get on my hands, and then I might touch the skin near my eyes....I was more relaxed by the second time, and used my bare hands!  Then I washed them with soap and water, just in case.)  Slice the chiles into 1/2-inch strips and set aside.

Here they are, all "scraped", seeded, and stemmed.
     3.  Make the tomato sauce:  In a blender jar, pulse together the onion, diced tomatoes, with their juice, chopped serrano chiles (not me!!), garlic, cumin, oregano, and salt (or kelp), to blend an almost smooth salsa (some fine chunks are okay).  In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and carefully pour in the salsa.  It may splatter a little but that's all right, just keep stirring.  (IF you don't want any oil, I would omit it.)  Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.  Stir in the vegetable broth and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.  While the sauce is simmering, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and have ready a 13 by 9 by 2-inch pan and a sheet of foil large enough to tightly cover the pan.  (The reason I used less tortillas is because I made mine in a round cast iron skillet; the tiny propane oven in our guest house in San Miguel couldn't hold a 13 by 9 pan!)
This time that I made it, I chose to leave the poblanos whole, so it was more like chile rellenos.

     4.  Assemble the casserole:  Pour 1/2 cup of the sauce into the bottom of the pan and tilt it to spread it around.  Using tongs, dip a tortilla into the pot of sauce and place it on the bottom of the pan.  continue with five more tortillas, dipping them in the suace and overlapping them, spreading their edges a little up the sides of the pan.  Top with about half the crumbled potatoes and sliced poblanos, then ladle another 1/2 cup of sauce on top.  Dip another tortilla in the sauce, layer it on top of potatoes, and continue as before with five more tortillas.  Finally, sprinkle the remaining potatoes and poblano strips on top.  Tear any remaining tortillas into thick strips, dip them into the sauce, and spread them on top of the casserole.  Pour any remaining sauce evenly over the casserole and cover with foil, crimping the edges tightly.  (I had no foil in Mexico, so I placed a comal, which is a flat cast iron griddle, over the top.)  Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and take off the foil.  Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

     5.  Meanwhile, make the Pine Nut Crema:

12 ounces soft silken tofu
1/2 cup pine nuts or pumpkin seeds (Terry recently posted that she prefers it                    with pumpkin seeds; I used sunflower seeds because I had them)
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 clove garlic, grated (I chopped mine in Mexico; in Cali, I used a garlic press)
1 teaspoon salt (I used granulated kelp)

       In a blender jar, pulse together the tofu, pine nuts, lime juice, olive oil, cornstarch, garlic, and salt until smooth and creamy, scraping down the mixture several times with a rubber spatula.  Taste and adjust the flavor with more salt and lime juice if desired.

I had plenty of crema since my skillet was smaller than 13 by 9 , and yes, those are sunflower seeds.

     6.  Spread dollops of the Pine Nut Crema over the top of the steaming hot casserole.  You don't have to be even about it; a few bits of the casserole showing underneath are fine.  Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds over the crema.  Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the top of the crema is golden and the seeds are toasted.  If desired, broil the casserole for 4 to 5 minutes to continue browning spots of the crema, but watch carefully as not to burn the seeds.
This time, I did not put it under the broiler, feeling it had enough color already.

     7.  Serve the casserole hot, sprinkled with cilantro and onions.  Pass around lime wedges for squeezing on top of each serving.  This casserole heats up well the next day in the microwave. (Or over a wood fire:  Ted took leftovers to his jobsite in the country where he was building a casita for a Texan, heated it over a wood fire, and shared it with his Mexican crew, because they "pot luck" their lunch every day.  They  said it was delicious, too!)

I also played with stuffing the poblanos with the mashed potato mixture; I also made a filling of TVP with onions and cumin and oregano - mostly because TVP is so easy to buy in Mexico.  In the States, I would've used Smart Round.  Really, you can't go wrong with this recipe, it is so strong.

                                                       BUEN PROVECHO!!

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