Wordless Wednesday: Killer Apps

Tempeh Larb

Sausage Pizza Wontons

Potato Oyster Half Shells

Pigs Belong In A Blanket

Pepperoni Stuffed Mushrooms

Be’ef Phyllo Samosas

Recipe testing for Fake Meat by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

The Whole Enchilada

Enchiladas, like so many brilliant culinary innovations, date back to the ancient Mayans. Corn was plentiful, which gave rise to the fundamental, unassailable corn tortilla. Of course, they were called tlaxcalli at the time, later changed by Spanish conquistadors who couldn’t pronounce the word and forever changed the course of history. While tacos might seem like the most obvious use, a strong argument could be made that enchiladas were the first tortilla-based delicacy written into the annals of history. Originally, the dish consisted of nothing more than empty corn tortillas, rolled for a compact bite, and dipped in chili sauce. Before they were ever fried or filled, people have found these edible vessels worthy within their own rights.

Thus, I present to you an entirely controversial proposal: Try taking the tortilla out of the enchilada.

I promise, that’s not a hypothetical request or an impossible riddle. It occurred to me early on in the pandemic, when grocery deliveries were more akin to a new episode of Chopped, bringing with it a new mystery basket each week. Pasta has always been essential, but the exact form it would take was a bit of a wild card. Not a problem if you’re swapping ziti for penne, but giant manicotti tubes instead of pastina? Something was lost in translation on that exchange. Having never made manicotti before, those jumbo cylinders sat in the pantry for quite some time.

While I may be old, I certainly wasn’t around when the Mayans were creating this ground-breaking food, so my association with enchiladas is more strongly linked to the sauce and filling. One day, craving something with Mexican flair but lacking the traditional nixtamalized base, I came across that Italian staple just waiting for a purpose, and had this wild idea. Why smother them in plain red sauce when we could spice things up a bit?

Thus, Enchilada Manicotti were born. Perfect for a fiesta, family dinner, or cozy night in, the chewy pasta casing is stuffed with high-protein soyrizo and drowned in piquant enchilada sauce. Arguably easier than the contemporary take on this dish, you don’t need to worry about finicky tortillas cracking or unrolling in the oven. After a bit of assembly, you can take the rest of the night off, since it pretty much cooks itself.

Try a few different twists to make this formula your own:

  • Tender cubes of buttery gold potatoes add more heft to the filling, but this could be a great opportunity to sneak in other veggies, like riced cauliflower, diced zucchini, corn kernels, diced bell peppers, or a combination of your favorites.
  • Add shredded vegan cheese to the filling and/or topping, if you want to increase the richness and crave-worthy goo-factor.
  • Go all-out and make everything from scratch, including your own soyrizo, enchilada sauce, and sour cream for a real show-stopper of an entree that will impress all your friends and relatives.
  • Swap the red enchilada sauce for mole or chile verde sauce when you want a flavorful change of pace.

What can you serve with Enchilada Manicotti?

Both enchiladas and manicotti are ideal complete meals in and of themselves, needing no additional flourishes to completely satisfy. However, there are still plenty of complementary accompaniments you can consider to round out your plate:

  • Green salad or cabbage slaw
  • Yellow rice or cilantro rice
  • Black beans, pinto beans, or refried beans
  • Pico de gallo or your favorite salsa
  • Sliced avocado or guacamole
  • Tortilla chips

Is it Ital-ican, or maybe Mex-alian? Honestly, neither really capture the free spirit and full flavor of this dish. I’m perfectly satisfied to call it “delicious” and leave it at that. No matter what, you’ll want to leave room for a second helping.

Continue reading “The Whole Enchilada”

One Reuben to Rule Them All

Who the heck is Reuben, and how did he ever think to invent such a meaty masterpiece? Of course, like any good origin story, this one is full of controversy, hotly contested to this day. The two leading theories attribute the deli staple to restaurants in Omaha and New York, right around the same time in the early 1900s. Each one came about by making thrifty use of leftovers to satisfy a deep, gnawing hunger. Perhaps there’s a kernel of truth in both of these claims, but the world will never know for sure.

Urban legends and lore aside, there’s no questioning the fact that it’s a timeless classic that transcends all tastes. While often associated with Jewish delicatessens, the archetypal sandwich couldn’t be farther from kosher certification, as it flagrantly combines meat and dairy in one mouthful. Today, we have the technology to right this wrong. Abundant vegan alternatives make this classic easily accessible to everyone. In fact, I discovered no less than five wholly unique, completely plant-based Reuben renditions right here in Austin, TX. Each one takes a different approach to accomplish the same goal, demonstrating culinary creativity without making concessions for flavor.

I wouldn’t hesitate to order any and all of these sandwiches in a heartbeat. Each one fulfills a different craving, from reasonably wholesome to downright decadent.

Counter Culture puts a healthier spin on this otherwise gut-busting sandwich, employing whole foods that remain true to their earthy roots. Soft marbled rye flecked with caraway seeds cradles thick planks of marinated locally made tempeh, slathered with super gooey cheese sauce and a notably tomato-forward dressing. Crunchy red onion adds welcome textural contrast, cutting the subtly bitter edge of the fermented beans nicely. The sauerkraut is so soft that it seems to melt into the filling, blended with a few cucumber pickles for an extra fresh flavor.

Wheatsville is natural foods co-op, not a sit-down restaurant, but their made-to-order deli sandwiches put many proper eateries to shame. Although best known for their tofu po’boys, the vegan Reuben sandwich deserves just as much praise. Composed of bright pink corned seitan, sliced dairy-free Gouda cheese, thousand island dressing, and old fashioned sauerkraut, it’s a straightforward homage to tradition. I’ve seen confused patrons take their sandwiches back to the counter, uncertain if they actually ordered the vegan version or not. It’s a perfectly balanced savory composition that’s delicious and hits all the right notes.

Bouldin Creek Cafe is another beloved establishment that couldn’t care less about passing trends, big name brands, or hyper-realistic mock meats. They do things their own way, from scratch, which means their Ruby Reuben is unapologetically made with bright red beets. In this sporadic lunch special, golden grilled rye bread stuffed with tender shredded beets and kale-cabbage kraut, while melted Follow Your Heart cheese slices act as the edible glue, sealing the deal. The subtly smoky Russian dressing creates an even greater depth of flavor, creating a prize-worthy Reuben like no other.

Rebel Cheese really puts their protein front and center, getting right down to the meat of the matter. Their “Gentle Reuben” stacks up with a tidy pile of thinly sliced meatless corned beef as the star of the show. For a shop best known for their homemade cheeses, I do wish it had more of a goo-factor, but that does make it a bit less messy to eat. The layer of sauerkraut is certainly not skimpy, lending a pleasantly salty, tangy character to every bite.

Brunch Bird lays claim to the one Reuben that could rule them all. I’ve seen grown men cry as they sink their teeth into this monstrous meal. The meatless corned beef is unassailable, thinly sliced and super smoky, piled up in tender shreds underneath a tangy blankets of sauerkraut, thousand island dressing, and melted cheese. It’s hard to hold if you don’t want to wear it, but worth the struggle. This is the sandwich that could win over staunch meat eaters without a fight.

Whether you go old school or nouveau, there’s no denying the appeal of a properly stacked Reuben. The interplay between umami, salty, sour, and subtly sweet flavors is what made it a top-seller for over a hundred years. In the next century, perhaps the Reuben revolution will make meat obsolete, once and for all. Which version are you picking up first?

Lobster In a Pinch

As a Connecticut native, I have a lot to say about lobster rolls. While I can’t claim to have been a big fan, it was an absolute, irrefutable fact that one such sandwich could ONLY be made with melted butter and steamed claw meat stuffed into a split-top bun. Served anywhere further than a mile from the shore, it should be regarded with suspicion. Better yet, it should be enjoyed at the beach for best results, with sand between your toes, wind in your hair, and the ocean filling the silence while you eat wordlessly with your lover.

Outside of that dreamy romance, as I got older, I found that the real world has other ideas. It turns out that there’s also a so-called Maine lobster roll that’s instead tossed with mayonnaise for a creamier, cooler richness, though that too should be a spartan affair. If you add things like chopped celery, onion, pickles, or carrots, let’s be honest: You just made expensive, luxury seafood indistinguishable from tuna salad. Some people call this Rhode Island-style, but I just call it an abomination.

Given there are so few ingredients and no where to hide extras, how can one accurately recreate the experience of a fresh, plump lobster roll without any animal products? To that, I say, “hold my bun and watch.”

Thick Sugimoto Donko shiitake mushroom caps offer the ideal meaty yet supple texture once rehydrated. Though smaller than Koshin, they’re the perfect size for tucking into a sandwich and filling every square inch with nuanced, umami and tanmi flavor. Making this recipe suitably lavish, tender artichoke bottoms join the party to replicate that buttery yet mild bite of fresh seafood. It’s a bit of a splurge, as a proper lobster roll should be.

On that note, it’s interesting to look back on how far such a humble crustacean has come. While lobster has become a prized delicacy in America since the early 1900s, prior to that it was so despised and devalued that it was literally served to prisoners. The general public regarded it as “sea trash”, with such overwhelming numbers washing up along the east coast that much of the catch was used as fertilizer. I have confidence that once word gets about plant-based lobster, it might enjoy a similar rise to fame and fortune.

And why not? Infused with the oceanic flavor of kelp and seasoned simply, these fresh vegetables taste downright decadent. Once you have the main meat of the matter ready to go, you can turn it into a Connecticut dream or Maine game in a snap- or both, if you can’t decide. While you could also go off the rails down the Rhode Island route, just don’t tell me about it. I won’t yuck your yum, but I think there’s no reason to mess with perfection here.

Continue reading “Lobster In a Pinch”

Parm for the Course

Cravings don’t always make sense. That’s the beauty and madness of it all. Humans are completely inscrutable sometimes, and I’d nominate myself as a prime candidate to represent this phenomenon.

Why would I start craving something that I didn’t enjoy in the first place? It makes no sense. Thanks, I hate it, I’ll have some more, please. I offer no explanations, but a far more rational remedy to an illogical appetite.

Plant-based ParmCrisps have obvious appeal. Crisp, cheesy, snackable, and packable, they can be eaten out of hand or added to a larger meal. The trouble is, I just didn’t love them. To each their own, but for approximately $1.75 per miserly 1-ounce serving (which would never satisfy), those tiny treats had better be pure instant gratification, no holds barred, to be worth the investment.

We can, and will, do better. May I introduce my very own Parm-ish Crisps, fresh from the oven and easily tailored to your specific tastes?

With a texture you can really sink your teeth into, my version is a bit thicker and more substantial, which gives them a heartier bite. Boldly flavorful beyond what you might expect for such a short list of inclusions, it’s hard to stop at just a handful. They’re perfect for using as chips with dip, tossing into salad as croutons, or stashing for snacking on the go. Get fancy and build a full charcuterie board around them or eat them straight off the baking sheet before they even finish cooling.

These babies aren’t so precious that they need to be saved for a special occasion. It takes a scant handful of pantry ingredients and just a few minutes of your time, so you can fully indulge your cravings, reasonable or not, whenever they might hit.

As it stands, these savory little morsels are already gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, and eggless! To accommodate even more dietary restrictions, adaptation is easy.

  • Keto or Paleo: Replace the vegan butter with coconut oil.
  • Oil-Free: Replace the vegan butter and water with aquafaba.
  • Nut-Free: Replace the almond flour with sunflower seed flour.

Don’t forget about the flavor variations! Simple cheesy satisfaction is all I need most days, but you can easily change things up for a different flavor adventure everyday. There’s no limit to the possibilities, but here are some of my favorite options…

  • Salt and Vinegar: Omit the water and add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar. Sprinkle coarse sea salt on top before baking.
  • Pesto: Add 1/4 cup basil, finely minced, into the dough.
  • Everything Bagel: Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of everything bagel seasoning on top of the crackers, pressing it in gently before baking.
  • Buffalo: Add 1/2 tablespoon of hot sauce and reduce the water to 1 1/2 tablespoons.
  • Garlic and Herb: Mix 1 tablespoons of herbs de Provence or Italian seasoning and 1 1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder into the dough.
  • Smoky Tomato: Omit the water and add 2 tablespoons of smooth tomato sauce and 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke to the dough.

No matter what you’re craving, or why you’re craving it, these cheesy treats should do the trick.

Continue reading “Parm for the Course”