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.

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.

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