Sweet Chili Jam (Vegan)

Enough about all this vegan-zeegan-schmeegan business. It’s time to can some sweet chili jam, son.

Sweet chili jam, son

I got 99 problems but the perfect breakfast condiment ain't one.

That’s right. I know you’ve been wondering what to do with all those peppers and tomatoes that your garden spat out in ungodly heaves during the late, glorious death throes of fall. Also I know you’ve been thinking to yourself, “Oh fiddlesticks, if only I had the perfect condiment to accompany any possible egg dish conceivable to humanity …” And furthermore I KNOW you’ve been thinking, “Boys, I think it’s about time I got my canning on.”

And if you haven’t been thinking any of those things, don’t worry, I was just joking, I certainly wasn’t either … um … yeah …

So anyway, Sweet Chili Jam. I love this stuff so very much, and it truly does go perfectly with anything you can think of to do with eggs. Also, since it’s a jam, it will keep for a long time in your refrigerator in a jar. You don’t even need to go through any complicated official canning process, you can just stick it in any old jar and you’re good to go.  You can find jars of various sizes in the baking section of many grocery stores, or you can recycle one. For instance, I had this random Classico jar, which is weird, because I honestly can’t remember ever having bought any Classico product in my life, but whatevs, that’s not the point. Sealed tightly and refrigerated, the jam should be good for a couple of months. However, I think you will eat it all before then.

This recipe is an adaptation of an Alice Hart recipe. My modifications include roasting and peeling the tomato and bell peppers first; that way you don’t end up with bits of skin in the jam. (Note: You can skip the roasting – see asterisked comment below). Also I added a smidge of cayenne, increased the garlic, adjusted the amount of water and vinegar, and somewhat disregarded the instructions she gave about what peppers to use.

In our house we eat this with plain eggs, omelettes, frittata, Spanish tortilla, tamales, anything Mexican, and whatever seems like it needs a dollop of sweet and spicy.

Sweet Chili Jam

  • 2 – 3 large garlic cloves,  peeled
  • 3 – 5 small, medium or long red chilis (sweet, medium or hot; use more chilis if they’re smaller, less if they’re larger)
  • 1 oz piece fresh ginger, peeled (I use a carrot peeler)
  • 12 – 16 oz ripe tomatoes
  • 2 red, orange or yellow bell peppers (or any combo thereof), deseeded
  • 3/4 c. Demerara sugar (can also use turbinado or azucar morena – available in most baking sections of grocery stores)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c. rice vinegar
  • Dash of cayenne (to taste)

Preheat broiler. When broiler is quite hot, place tomatoes and bell peppers on baking sheet and broil, turning occasionally (use tongs) until blackened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool until they can be handled. Slide skins off and discard.*

Pulse the garlic, chilis and ginger in a food processor until well minced. If you are afraid of the heat from the chilis, try de-seeding a couple or all of them.

Chop the tomatoes roughly and the bell peppers a little more finely.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine peppers, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, sugar, cayenne, salt and vinegar. It is at this stage that I usually find it useful to add about 1/8 to 1/4 c. of water and a couple splashes more vinegar in order to control the texture. I leave this to your discretion. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer, stirring often, until viscous, about 30 – 40 minutes. Taste and adjust salt/sugar/cayenne as necessary.

Cool and pour into jars. Refrigerate. Serve with any of the items I mentioned above or anything else that sounds good to you!

*Note: You can skip the roasting of the tomatoes and bell peppers and it will not affect the flavor of the jam noticeably. The only drawback to that method is that the skins of the tomatoes and peppers toughen and piece off, somewhat disrupting the texture. You may not mind this – for instance, it doesn’t bother J at all. It is just my personal preference to avoid the skins, and roasting the vegetables is an easy way to accomplish that.

A Review of Mexican Gherkins (Vegan)

What are they?! Aren’t they weird?! Whatever will I do with them?! These are just a few of the questions that flooded my brain the first time I saw them. Followed by, “GHERKINS?! I need to know everything about a vegetable with a name like GHERKIN.”That ain't no Jelly Belly

So I bought some. And I researched them. And I washed them. And I tasted them.

Hold on to your socks, folks, because I don’t have much to report. They taste like slightly lemony cucumbers. That’s all I got.

But still. If you like cucumbers, you’ll probably love gherkins. Tiny, crunchy, fresh-tasting and tart, they look like jelly bean-sized watermelons. Munch them down like Fritos, toss them in oil with grape tomatoes for a minimalist salad, add them to a glass of water, or use them in some kind of cucumberish martini concoction, if you’re feeling adventurous. They’re tasty, refreshing, bite-sized – a handy snack and easy garnish. That’s about it.

Many people will tell you to pickle them, as with other kinds of gherkins. I can’t speak to this, but it seems perfectly reasonable, and I could imagine a number of other uses for a pickled version. For instance, you could chop them up and add them to your favorite potato salad (or egg salad, if you’re an egg eater). Or you could tuck them into a falafel pita, drizzled with tahini sauce and za’atar. In fact, you could do either of those things with unpickled gherkins. Mind you, I haven’t tried any of these yet – just some ideas I’ve been tossing around while trying to decide whether to buy some again. Meanwhile I figured I’d share what I’ve learned and let you make your own decision.

So, that’s my 75 cents on the new and trendy Mexican gherkin.

Esquites, aka Mexican Street Corn (Vegan)

Oh, I do love me some esquites. The less messy-to-eat sibling of elote(Mexican style corn on the cob), esquites takes a delicious treat and puts it in a bowl or cup so that the people who love it more than words can express are able to eat twice as much twice as fast in huge spoonfuls. MMMMMMMMMM.

From Tlazolcalli cucina

Mmmmmmsquites (pic from Tlazolcalli cucina)

Unfortunately, authentic esquites is made with a million pounds of butter and has about a Jesus-kabillion calories. And baby, that just ain’t cool.

So, here’s my vegan version, which boasts zero butter and a totally non-biblical proportion of calories. Easy to make, low fat, low cal and fun at parties. What more could you want?

Esquites

  • Corn from 4 cobs (around 3 cups) – if you haven’t cut corn from the cob, watch a quick tutorial. (If necessary, you can also use frozen or canned corn.)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp serrano pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne (to taste)
  • 2 – 3 tbsp vegan mayo
  • Salt to taste

Heat a medium size frying pan or sauce pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and heat a few moments longer until oil is hot. Combine the corn and pepper and stir until evenly coated with oil. Heat for a few minutes, stirring regularly, until corn becomes fragrant. Squeeze in juice from one lime. If it’s not a very juicy lime, consider adding another. Add cayenne and a bit of salt and taste. If necessary, add more salt and cayenne and mix well.

At this point, you have a choice. You could serve it as is, which I personally find delicious, or you could complete the last step of adding the mayo. If you add the mayo, it will obviously be differently delicious, and most people probably prefer it that way. And it’s also more true to the authentic esquites experience. However, not including a barrel of butter is totally inauthentic, so don’t kid yourself too much.

Oh, one last thing. If you want the corn to have a more “roasted” flavor and appearance, you can start by searing it, removing it from heat, and then proceeding through the steps described above.

Basil Guacamole (Vegan)

Consider adding basil to your guacamole. It adds a lovely dimension of freshness. Or if you’d prefer not, omit the basil and just have guacamole. Either way, here’s a quick and easy recipe.

Basil Guacamole

  • 3 avocados
  • 1 lime
  • 1/3 c. red onion, chopped and rinsed
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp serrano pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or rubbed on the mixing apparatus (see Notes)
  • 1 -2 tbsp chopped fresh basil

Slice the avocados in half lengthwise and twist apart, removing the seeds. Scoop out insides with a spoon and mash the avocado coarsely with a fork. Add salt in 1/8 tsp increments until there’s a balance of bite and richness (usually I end up adding about 1/2 to 1 tsp total, depending on the size of the avocados).

Add the juice of one lime – if it’s a super juicy lime, maybe just use half; if it’s a dryer lime, maybe use up to two. You’re going to have to taste and see; the result should be tangy but not sour.

Stir in the onion, pepper and garlic, if applicable (again, see Notes). Add the basil last and serve immediately.

Notes

Regarding the garlic. We usually make guacamole in a molcajete, a sort of mortar and pestle-like  kitchen tool used in Mexican cooking. When making guac with a molcajete, we rub one peeled clove all over the bowl of it, and that infuses the guac with flavor while mixing, such that additional garlic isn’t necessary. If you’re not using a molcajete, just add minced garlic towards the end. Delicious either way.

90 Second Tomato Quesadilla (Vegetarian)

vine tomatoes, mmmmmmHi. This a not a shining moment for me, but because you are my very favorite blog readers, I am going to share it with you. As some of you may know, J is gone on tour for the month of May. As some of you may also know, although I am tremendously proud of him and happy that he is such a talented musician he gets to do cool things like tour Europe with Matmos, I am kind of a mess without him. My state of disrepair is not his fault, mind you – it’s mine, just so we’re clear. And he feels really bad about me being sad, so I try not to be too much of a drama queen. But alas, that goes so much against my nature. What can I say, I’m expressive.

Those of you who have seen it before will recognize the telltale signs of my month-long discombobulation. The syndrome is characterized by a number of things I am somewhat embarrassed of, but for which I shan’t apologize, because, well, it ain’t easy being green. The first and most obvious is my instantaneous insomnia (markedly worse than usual). The second is my profound lack of motivation to do anything productive (eg, go jogging, go to the post office, dust, read a book, etc). The third, and most relevant to you, my beloved blog audience, is that I have absolutely no desire to cook anything at all. For starters, J is my taster and second opinion – I feel blind without him. Then there’s the fact that it can be very difficult to cook for only one person – how do you not have way too many leftovers? Then there’s also the fact that one of my big motivators in cooking is the thought, “I want to make something delicious for J because he’s so rad!” So anyway. All of that. Which is why I haven’t developed anything new lately. Except for the 90 Second Tomato Quesadilla, of course.

Which brings me to the not-shining moment I referenced before. Since J’s been gone, I have been eating lots of junk food, including lots of cheese, and even seafood (vegans, please don’t be angry with me!). But some good has come of it. Allow me to introduce the 90 Second Tomato Quesadilla, which has been my dinner staple for more evenings than I’d like to admit. And yes, you really can make it in 90 seconds or less. It’s not hard at all. In fact, it’s so easy, it’s probably kind of silly for me to try to float it by as a “recipe.” Also, I’m sure most, if not all of you, know how to make a quesadilla. But do you know how to make it in 90 seconds or less? Um … anyway, I’m just hoping someone can benefit from my tribulations.

90 Second Tomato Quesadilla

(Makes one-is-the-loneliest-number quesadilla. I recommend doubling the ingredients and making at least two per person. Not just for metaphorical reasons, but because you’ll probably want more than one if you’re using the small tortillas, as recommended.* And naturally, if you’re serving more than one person, multiply accordingly.)

  • 1 half small vine-ripened or heirloom tomato, sliced and the slices halved (Do you have to use vine-ripened or heirloom? Well, it’s up to you, obviously, but I think they are more flavorful than other tomatoes.)
  • 1/4 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese (Did you know it was spelled with only one “r”? Or that its inventor is disputed? Color me surprised, I always thought it was named for a different Monterrey.)
  • 1 small tortilla (~5 or 6 inch diameter) – I like Whole Foods Red Chile tortillas
  • 1/4 sliced avocado, sprig or two of chopped cilantro and salsa to taste, if desired

If you do this all in an incredibly efficient fashion, I promise you it won’t take longer than 90 seconds; in fact, it will probably only take about a minute. However, if you’re slicing avocado or chopping cilantro, I would anticipate that could potentially add up to a minute or so. And if you’re serving multiple people, then the 90 second thing kind of breaks down. Truly, this is a quesadilla designed for solitude.

Shred about 1/4 c. of Monterey Jack cheese with a grater. Place the tortilla on a microwave safe plate and sprinkle the cheese in a circle in the middle, leaving about 1/2 inch border between the cheese and the edge of the tortilla. Pop it in the microwave for 35 seconds.

Meanwhile, rinse your tomato and cut a few slices. Halve them, and they’re ready to place in your quesadilla. This would also be the time to slice your avo or chop your cilantro (if you hadn’t done so in advance).

When the tortilla with cheese is done in the microwave, place the pieces of tomato in the middle. This is also when you would place the avo and cilantro, if desired.

Fold up like a mini-burrito, and serve immediately. (Don’t dally; they’re not very good cold.)

*If you’re using larger tortillas, adjust the ingredients accordingly.

Zucchini Relleno with Lentils (Vegan)

Calabacines rellenos con lentejas

There I was minding my own quiet business waiting for my delicious burrito-to-go from Humberto’s, when lo-and-behold I spied to my right a little Spanish-language classified news rag that had “RECETAS! p. 38” in bold on the side. And I was like, RECETAS! OMG! There’s nothing I love more than recetas, because if it’s a recipe, and it’s in San Diego, and it’s in Spanish, there’s a 90% certainty it will be fantastic. Even if it was sponsored by Nestle. Which it was.

And that being the case, and deliciousness of the recipe aside, I question whether the person who wrote it out ever actually made it, because a lot of the directions were totally wonky. If I had naively followed them, the outcome would have been disastrous. Fortunately, I *slightly* knew what I was doing, and I feel confident that you can trust this version, although I have included a few notes throughout. But don’t worry. Even if you’re not an adventurous cook (and there’s nothing wrong with that – life is too short for bad food), you can’t go wrong with this one.

For the record, I’ve made no explicitly vegetarian/vegan modifications to this recipe, as its original purpose was to serve the Spanish-speaking community with vegetarian recipes for options during Lent. The modifications I’ve made were strictly of the “it is better to make it this way” variety.

Zucchini Stuffed with Lentils

  • 6 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise, stems cut off, scooped of pulp & seeds
  • 3 – 4 tbsp vegetable oil (divided use)
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 1 – 2 serrano peppers, de-seeded and minced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups lentils
  • 10 oz tomato sauce
  • 2 tbsp Maggi seasoning sauce (you can find it near steak sauces or in the Mexican food isle or at Mexican food markets; if you can’t find it, soy sauce would work – though Maggi has this strange aromatic-ness that is better)
  • Diced cilantro for garnish, to taste
  • Dry loose cotija for garnish, if desired (of course this will render it no longer vegan)

Slice and de-seed/de-pulp 6 zucchini in preparation. I recommend a spoon for the de-pulping. Additionally, please note that each halved zucchini is about 1 side serving, and once they are cooked they don’t keep well. Hence, if you are cooking for a small bunch I would recommend only preparing the number of zucchini halves you expect to eat. For instance, J and I would only prepare 2 zucchinis, for a total of 4 halves. We’d save the remaining lentil mixture and prepare the zucchinis on an as-needed basis. Does that make sense? Am I over-complicating things? I can do that sometimes. Anyhoo, back to the recipe.

Follow the instructions on the package to cook the lentils (usually ~ 20 minutes/2 cups lentils). If you bought bulk lentils, here’s a quick explanation of how to prepare them.

For the mixture:

Heat 1 tbsp of the veg oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft. Add the cooked lentils, tomato sauce and Maggi sauce and cook, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes, until everything is hot. Remove from heat. Fill the zucchini halves uniformly with the lentil mixture. Now, you have two final options:

If you want to cook the stuffed zucchini stovetop:

Add the remaining 2 – 3 tbsp of oil to the original pan and heat on medium-low. Place the zucchini in the pan and heat for about 10 minutes or until tender.

If you want to bake the stuffed zucchini in the oven:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the stuffed zucchini on a baking sheet or in an iron skillet for about 10 minutes, or until tender. This option is healthier as it requires no oil, but it may result in dryer zucchinis.

Serve immediately with salsa,* cilantro and optional cotija as a garnish. When removing the zucchinis from the pan to serve, use a spatula to avoid a crumpled zucchini fiasco.

A NOTE ABOUT THIS RECIPE: I really liked my first attempt at this but felt there were many improvements that could be made. I will continue to experiment with it and promise to provide updates in the future. Please check back!

*If you’re in San Diego in the greater park area, head over to JayCee’s on 25th & C – they have this excellent fresh homemade salsa in the back of the store in the refrigerated section near the meat counter by the Oaxacan queso. We like the hot version, but all of the varieties are excellent.

Mushroom Quesadillas (Vegetarian)

Hongos y queso, que guay

Mushroom quesadillas topped with salsa, tomato and guacamole

Oh, I stole this from Rick Bayless, Mexican food chef extraordinaire. Though I suppose I didn’t really steal it, since I paid for his book and all. And I haven’t changed anything about it, so perhaps this is plagiaraism, but … well, I’m here to just help you find good vegetarian recipes that you can trust, so I don’t worry about semantics like that. Rick Bayless, please don’t hate me for sharing:

  • 1 lb mushrooms (preferably button, baby bella, shitaake or some flavorful variety – though white will also do), sliced in ~ 1/4 inch slices
  • Smallish corn tortillas
  • Olive oil
  • 2 – 3 serrano peppers, de-seeded and minced
  • 1/4 c. chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c. grated Monterey Jack cheese

So, get all the ingredients to the state they’re supposed to be. In a large skillet, heat about 2 tbsp oil on medium heat and add the mushrooms and pepper. Toss in oil and cook lightly for a minute or so. Cover and cook for 4 -5 minutes, stirring every minute or so, until the mushrooms let out a lot of juice. Once they’ve juiced, remove cover and continue to simmer briskly until most of the juice has evaporated, another 2 minutes or so. Add the salt and cilantro at this stage, continuing to stir and cook until the cilantro is wilted, and tasting to determine appropriate amounts.

When you’re satisfied with the mushrooms, remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat your oven on the lowest possible setting with a casserole dish or baking sheet inside – when quesadillas are done, you can place them inside to keep them warm while you are waiting to cook them all before serving.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet on medium-high. With a basting brush or something to that effect, cover one side of a tortilla with olive oil. Place the tortilla, oil side down, in the middle of the pan. Sprinkle a small amount of grated cheese on the tortilla, leaving approximately 1/2 inch border. Spoon about 1 – 2 tsp mushroom mix into the middle of the tortilla and cook until cheese is melted. Fold tortilla over and cook on each side, flipping over every minute or so until crispy on both sides.

When each quesadilla is done, scoop it out with a spatula and move to the heated dish or baking sheet in the oven to keep warm until ready to serve.

Serve with salsa and guacamole and/or whatever you like.

Z’s Spicy Corn Chowder (Vegan)

This party fave is the result of a combination of several different white bean chili recipes, actually, all originally meat-inclusive, minus the beans and plus a bunch of random stuff I added for fun, including a few special twists I like to include to make something mine (e.g., hella garlic, jalapeno, potatoes and homemade soup stock) alongside the requisite vegification. Enjoy!

By the way, please note: This is a fairly spicy chowder. If you have trouble with spicy things, I’d recommend starting with about 1/4 of the recommended jalapeño & cayenne, and then adding additional pepper to taste. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. However, if you luvah the spicy, preparing this with the maximum amount of pepper ingredients recommended puts it at about a 7 on a 1 to 10 spicy scale, IMO. So …

  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced or thinly sliced
  • 1 celery rib, chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 2 bell peppers, red or yellow or both, chopped or diced
  • 4 – 6 smallish sized potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces (I use Yukon gold or red or both, though you can really use any kind of potato, and you can use more or less if you like)
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs, chopped
  • 3 c. sweet corn (from about 4 ears)
  • Enough olive oil to sauté the veggies (~3 tbsp or so)
  • 4-5 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 or 2 jalapeños, de-seeded & minced (don’t rub your eyes!)
  • 4 c. vegetable broth (make your own, it’s easy!)
  • 1 c. water
  • 2 tbsp vegan cream cheese (or more, based on your preference)
  • Dry thyme*
  • Cayenne*
  • Freshly ground sea salt*
  • Freshly ground black pepper*
  • Ground cloves or nutmeg*

If you’ve never cut fresh corn from the cob, view this tutorial. If you are intimidated, however, please feel free to use canned or frozen corn. It won’t have quite the same freshness, but it will still be delicious, so don’t you worry. Anyhoo …

In a large pan, sear the corn for a few minutes, until it begins to brown slightly. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven (or big stock pot) on medium to medium high heat.

Saute the garlic, onion, peppers, celery until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add water, vegetable broth, carrot, potato, fresh thyme & cayenne and bring to a simmer. Allow to cook for 20 – 25 minutes.

Stir in the cream cheese & corn, gently whisking until well combined. Allow to cook for another 10 – 20 minutes or so. Add the salt, pepper, dried thyme & nutmeg. You can also add more cayenne & more cream cheese to taste, if desired.

Notes

A very loose & general guide to spice quantities:

  • Around a small handful of salt & pepper
  • More dry thyme than you would expect (6 – 10 shakes of the jar)
  • A few shakes of the clove or nutmeg (around a teaspoon maybe)
  • Around 1 teaspoon of cayenne