Que Pasta?

Some foods are just better in concept than reality. Towering sandwiches built way beyond the capacity of an average mouth are sure to disgorge their fillings after even the most careful bites. Ice cream sundaes gleaming with a scoop of every flavor are guaranteed to melt into murky sludge, no matter how many spoons are digging in. Don’t even get me started on coleslaw so slick with mayonnaise that it could also pass for white cabbage soup.

All these disappointments are easily prevented, but 9 times out of 10, the basic construction is a recipe for failure. Seven layer dip is a top offender in my eyes, a frustration compounded by the potential of each flavorful new tier. Refried beans, salsa, cheese, guacamole, olives, lettuce, and herbs – What’s not to love? Well, let’s start with the physical impossibility of fitting all that goodness on top of one tortilla chip, defeating the whole purpose of that deliberate assembly. if you can manage dig down to the bottom without breaking said chip, you’ll be up to your knuckles in guacamole, which strikes me as a pretty serious party foul.

Perhaps we’ve just been thinking about this all wrong. Instead of serving as a starter, these flavorful layers are really meant for the main event. Trade that frilly shredded lettuce for more substantial fare like pasta, and we’ve got a game-changing entree on our hands.

Imagine if baked ziti went on a vacation to Mexico and came back with a fresh new lease on life. Emboldened with spicy enchilada sauce, this unconventional addition allows you full license to scoop out the entire stratified marvel in one satisfying serving.

Gluten-free Tresomega Nutrition noodles inspired this dinner time revelation thanks to their second annual blogger recipe contest. Made of organic quinoa, rice, and amaranth, these macaroni are one of the rare wheat-free varieties up to the task, remaining properly al dente when cooked with care. Snag a box or two online at Sam’s Club and find much more inspiration on the Tresomega Facebook page and Twitter feed

Complex in flavor but not in preparation, you can speed through assembly with some easy food hacks, pull out all the stops with homemade staples, or mix and match depending on your preference- and patience. Most critical here is the creamy cashew-based cheese sauce, which has a subtle tang thanks to unsweetened yogurt and the subtle smoky spice of chipotle canned in adobo, but in a pinch, good old pepper jack style vegan cheese shreds will certainly do the trick. There’s no shame in make it mostly homemade; a little shortcut is better than not cooking at all, every single time.

Lose the chips and dip into a new favorite main dish with those same luscious savory layers. This bold new interpretation was built on a stronger foundation than those earlier models and will never let you down.

Seven-Layer Pasta Bake

1 (15.4-Ounce) Can Refried Pinto Beans or 1 3/4 Cups Homemade (See Following Recipe)
1 (8-Ounce Box) Tresomega Quinoa Elbow or Penne Pasta
1 (10-Ounce) Can Red Enchilada Sauce or Homemade (See Following Recipe)
1 (14.5-Ounce) Can Diced Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, Drained
1 – 2 Cups Vegan Cheese Shreds or Homemade Cheese Sauce (See Following Recipe)
1 Cup Guacamole, Prepared or Homemade (See Following Recipe)
1/2 Cup Sliced Black Olives
2 – 3 Scallions, Thinly Sliced

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 7 x 11-inch casserole pan. If possible, opt for glass to see all those lovely layers! Set aside.

Set a large pot over high heat on the stove and bring approximately 4 quarts of water to a rapid boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, for only 6 minutes. It will be noticeably under-cooked, but that’s exactly what you want! If you cook it to al dente perfection now, it will get too soft after baking. Immediately drain and rinse with cold water.

Begin the assembly process by smearing the refried beans evenly across the bottom of the prepared casserole dish. In a separate bowl, toss the par-cooked pasta with enchilada sauce, stirring well to coat, before evenly distributing the spicy noodles on top. Add the drained fire-roasted tomatoes next, followed by the vegan cheese shreds or sauce.

Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, until hot all the way through and lightly browned on top. Let stand for at least 5 minutes before topping with dollops of guacamole, a sprinkle of black olives, and a final flurry of sliced scallions. Serve right away, while piping hot.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Unfried Refried Beans:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Yellow Onion, Minced
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
1 (14-Ounce Can) or 1 1/2 Cups Cooked Pinto Beans, Thoroughly Drained
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 – 1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Once shimmering, add the onion and garlic, sauteing until aromatic and lightly browned. This should only take about 8 – 10 minutes, so don’t wander off!

Add in the pinto beans, cumin, salt, and 1/4 cup of the vegetable stock next. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Take a potato masher and smash the beans into creamy submission, adding more stock if needed to reach the right consistency. Enjoy hot or let cool before storing an an air-tight container in the fridge, for up to a week.

Instant Enchilada Sauce:

1 (6-Ounce) Can Tomato Paste
1/4 Cup Vegetable Stock or Water
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

This is really a no-recipe sort of recipe that you could probably figure out by simply looking at the list of ingredients. All you need to do is whisk everything together until smooth and you’re good to go!

Easy Chipotle Cheese Sauce:

1 Cup Raw Cashews, Soaked in Hot Water for 1 – 2 Hours
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Plain Vegan Yogurt
1 Chipotle Canned in Adobo Sauce
3 Tablespoons Nutritional yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 – 3/4 Cup Water

Thoroughly drain the soaked cashews before tossing them into your blender with the yogurt, chipotle, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, salt, and 1/2 cup water. Begin blending on low speed, slowly ramping it up to high as the nuts are broken down. Pause to scrape down the sides of the container as needed, making sure that all the pieces are incorporated. Puree until completely smooth, drizzling in up to 1/4 additional water while running the motor if needed, to reach a silky, pourable consistency, somewhat like pancake batter.

You can enjoy this all by itself as a simple queso dip or spicy cream sauce, but it can also be stored in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 4 days if not using immediately.

Basic Guacamole:

2 Large, Ripe Avocados
1/4 Cup Finely Chopped Onion
1 Jalapeno, Finely Minced (Optional)
2 Tablespoons Lime Juice
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

In case you needed a refresher course on how to make guacamole… it’s okay. We all have days like that.

Pit and peel your avocados, placing them in a medium bowl along with the onion, jalapeno (if you like it hot,) lime juice, and salt. Roughly mash with a fork or potato masher until creamy but still slightly chunky. Use or eat right away; guacamole is always best fresh.

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Grace Under Pressure

The race is on: Stomachs are rumbling and the call for a quick, cozy dinner is at fever pitch. Even the thought of bundling up to grab Chinese takeout seems onerous, too exhausting after spending so much time on the road or at work already. Besides, once jackets are off and pajama pants are on, there’s no going back.

I have good news for you. Believe it or not, the makings of a hearty, warm, restorative meal are already sitting in your pantry, and they’ll come together in mere minutes, with minimal effort. You don’t even need to leave the plush luxury of your bunny slippers to make it happen.

Could there be anything more comforting than a big bowlful of velvety tomato soup? Whole cashews are cooked right into the mix for this almost instant blend, transforming humble broth and vegetables into an impossibly luscious, creamy bisque. Fire-roasted and sun-dried tomatoes join forces to lend a robust, full-bodied tomato flavor that tastes like it spent all day simmering on the stove; only you need to know it needed just a few minutes in the pressure cooker.

No fancy equipment? No problem. Bring out your standard soup pot and plan to simmer for a little bit longer. It may be difficult to wait, but it’s worth the extra time, and still beats greasy lo mein by a long shot.

Heat ‘n Eat Creamy Tomato Bisque

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Salt
4 Cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Stock
1 (28 ounce) Can Fire-Roasted Crushed Tomatoes
1/2 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes
1/2 Cup Raw Cashews
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Julienned (Thinly Sliced) Fresh Basil

Heat the oil in your pressure cooker set to sauté function. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened; about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the salt and continuing cooking for about 10 minutes, until the onions begin to evenly brown. Be patient while caramelizing the onions because the more golden-brown they get, the more-flavorful your soup will be.

Pour vegetable stock into the cooker along with the undrained can of tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, cashews, nutritional yeast, vinegar, and black pepper. Lock the pressure cooker lid in place and close the steam vent.

Seal and cook over high pressure for 8 minutes. Once the cooking cycle has completed, quick-release the steam vent to quickly break the seal.

Transfer the soup to a blender and thoroughly puree until completely smooth. Ladle into bowls and garnish with basil to serve.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe

Oh, Good Larb

Waves of heat ripple across the surface of the wok, a thin layer of oil shimmering in the late afternoon sun. Power dial turned up all the way to 10, intense heat emanated from the stove, setting a controlled conflagration ablaze right within reach. With one fell swoop, our fearless culinary guide and adept chef sent verdant handfuls of tender green vegetables flying, sizzling violently against the carbon steel, instantly searing upon contact. One minute later, the meal was served; blink and you’d miss the whole show.

The beauty of larb, otherwise written as laab, lahb, larp, laap, or lahp and prepared just as many different ways, is that it comes together in a flash, even if you don’t have the same kitchen confidence as bay area food guru Philip Gelb. Under his guidance, I encountered my favorite version of this Laotian and Thai dish, lightly charred by the kiss of the wok and brilliantly perfumed with a bouquet of fresh herbs and spices. Stunningly simple in composition yet impossibly complex in flavor, every bite was a new revelation. It’s the kind of combination that can never get boring, offering a fresh experience with every mouthful, and opportunities for different variations with every passing season.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many riffs on this timeless theme, sometimes with a delightful discovery of tender green asparagus or the unmistakable umami of chopped mushrooms sprinkled throughout. Even in the heat of summer, that man-made inferno is short lived, smoldering on only in flavor, and tempered by the cooling foil of crisp lettuce cups for serving. It’s well worth that fleeting moment in the fire.

Tempeh Larb

By Chef Philip Gelb of Sound & Savor

2 Tablespoons Raw Brown Rice

3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
3 Tablespoons Palm Sugar
1/4 Cup Lime Juice

8 Ounces Tempeh, Cut into 1/4-Inch Cubes
Oil for Frying

2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1 Stalk Fresh Lemongrass, Minced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Teaspoons Ginger, Minced
1 – 10 Thai Chilies, Minced
1/2 Cup Green Peas, Fresh or Frozen
1/2 Medium Red Onion, Diced
1/4 Cup Fresh Thai Basil, Chopped
1/4 Cup Fresh Mint, Chopped
1/4 Cup Fresh Italian Basil, Chopped
1/4 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Chopped

Crisp Lettuce Leaves, Such as Romaine or Bibb Lettuce, to Serve

In a hot frying pan over medium-low heat, dry toast the raw rice. Shake the pan continuously for 2 minutes until the rice smells nutty. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and crush it until it’s powdery. Set aside.

Combine the soy sauce, palm sugar, and lime juice and set aside.

Deep fry the tempeh until crisp and golden brown. Set side.

Place the coconut oil in a hot wok. Add the lemongrass, garlic, ginger, and as many chilies as you like. Stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the peas and onion and stir-fry for another minute. Add all of the fresh herbs and cook for only 10 seconds before add the soy sauce mixture. Give it just 1 more minute on the stove before turning off the heat.

Add the toasted rice powder and fried tempeh and stir everything together. Serve with lettuce leaves and let diners wrap parcels of larb with the lettuce.

Makes 2 – 3 Servings

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Naan-Sense

Salads aren’t just wilted leafy greens and tired, limp carrot sticks. Stunningly diverse once you peel back that initial concept, it’s difficult to pin down one concise definition of the concept to encompass all of the culinary possibilities. Salads are most frequently thought of as chilled dishes, but they can also be served warm. Though generally the healthier option on the table, some salads can be real gut bombs. Heck, if you can call something with cookies in it a “salad,” then you, too, can be anything you set your mind to.

Today, while I have less lofty aspirations in mind, the results are no less impressive. Simultaneously inspired by the glorious fresh tomatoes and cucumbers at the farmers market and exhausted by the idea of the labor of real cooking, salads are given high priority in my daily diet on hot summer days. All I want is something fresh and satisfying I can cobble together out of the contents of my fridge with an absolute minimal commitment to genuine cooking. Toasting bread, sure, I can handle that, but all the rest feels like too much work after a full shift and long commute.

Unsurprisingly, this has led to some truly questionable salads. Nothing is off limits; cooked grains, nuts, fruit, vegetables are all fair game of course, but what about that loaf of bread sitting on the counter, growing more stale by the hour? Well, why not? There’s a long tradition of thrifty Italians inventing imaginative twists on panzanella, so that only stretches the imagination for the uninitiated. Expanding on that carb-based formula, consider the pita and all it does for fattoush over in the middle east. Thus, it stands to reason, naan should be a perfectly acceptable ingredient in this formula as well, right?

Garlic naan, a thing of beauty in and of itself, seems almost too good to sacrifice to the salad bowl. Chewy, tender slabs of gluten rich oil and pungent minced garlic, is a sadly rare treat to find in ready-made vegan form. Typically prepared with yogurt and or ghee (butter,) it’s one of the few Indian staples firmly off limits for the lactose intolerant among us. Now that California Lavash has expanded its range to include a completely dairy-free rendition, nothing is out of bounds. I’m tempted to bring a package with me even when eating out at top Indian restaurants, but resist the urge by doubling down on my naan consumption at home instead.

It was only a matter of time before I found a way to shovel this glorious flatbread into my mouth by the forkful. Lightly toasting it to a crisp exterior and bestowing it with a golden curry dressing, this is a combination I could eat on repeat all summer long, and well beyond. Feel free to expand upon the vegetable inclusions based on what you have available, or go crazy with your own creative add-ins. As we’ve established, a salad is anything you want it to be, if you just believe in it.

Curried Naan Panzanella

1/2 Pound (1 Pint) Cherry or Grape Tomatoes, Halved
1/2 English Cucumber, Quartered and Sliced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt, Divided
5 – 6 Ounces (1 Pieces) Garlic Naan Bread, Cut into 1-Inch Squares
2 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 Teaspoon Madras Curry Powder
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Cup Cooked Chickpeas
1/4 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Roughly Chopped

Begin by tossing the sliced tomatoes and cucumbers with half of the salt. Set aside for about 15 minutes to draw out some of the excess liquid. Drain the extra water they’ve given off before proceeding.

Meanwhile, combine the sliced naan with 1/2 tablespoon of oil and spread the pieces out in an even layer on a baking sheet. Run under the broiler in your oven set to high for 10 – 15 minutes, until toasted golden brown and crisp.

Simply whisk together the remaining oil, lime juice, tahini, curry powder, black pepper, and remaining salt to create the dressing. Toss everything into a large bowl, including the drained vegetables, toasted bread, dressing, chickpeas, and cilantro, and mix well to combine. Serve immediately; this salad doesn’t keep well once dressed as the naan will begin to get soggy.

Makes 2 – 3 Entree Servings; 4 – 6 Side Servings

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Lazy Days

Writing a cookbook all about 10-minute recipes has made me the laziest cook ever. I’ve often said that it’s spoiled me for regular dinnertime prep, reducing me to infantile tantrums if anything should threaten to spill over that arbitrary time limit. Though I’m ashamed to admit it, I’ve been known to throw down a spatula mid-stir and plunder the cupboard for a bowlful of cereal instead, too hungry or impatient to complete the absurdly simple task. Just like the increasing efficiency of technology has eradicated our tolerance for lag, knowing just how quick a meal can come together creates a terrible intolerance for long, drawn out steps towards food fabrication.

For anyone else who knows that struggle, I’d like to introduce your to my easiest, fastest recipe yet, possible to slap on the table in 3 minutes all told. No arduous chopping, sauteing, baking, grilling, poaching, or advanced techniques required. If you can open a can and operate a microwave, you can feed yourself very well indeed. Truly, it’s so simple that it’s barely even a recipe, to the point that I hesitate to share this quick fix as a formal preparation. Considering how many times it’s saved me from the daily dinner dilemma, however, it seemed like a worthwhile idea to share.

Beans. Salsa. Spices. Heat and eat. It’s not fancy fare, but it’s a healthy bowl-in-one and deeply satisfying. Even a bare-bones sort of pantry should be able to accommodate without advanced planning, especially when you look at the ingredients with a flexible perspective. Simple as it is, the beauty of this basic formula is that it’s infinitely adaptable to any type of beans or seasoning you can scrounge up. See the end notes for more inspiration, but don’t be afraid to depart from the beaten path; make it your own and embark on a new flavor adventure.

Instant Fiesta Soup

2 (15-Ounce) Cans No Salt Added Pinto Beans (Undrained)
1 1/2 Cups Salsa
1 1/2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin

For Topping (Optional):

Diced Avocado
Thinly Sliced Chives or Scallions

Toss the beans, aquafaba and all, into your blender along with the salsa and spices. Blend until mostly smooth but with a bit of texture still remaining, as desired.

Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high, until steaming hot all the way through; about 4 – 5 minutes. Alternatively, a single serving into the microwave for 2 minutes and store the rest in the fridge, sealed in an airtight container, for up to a week.

Ladle into bowls and top each with avocado and chives or scallions. Dig in!

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Variations:

On less lazy days, cook your own beans from scratch! Simply use about 3 cups total and either 1/2 – 1 cup of the aquafaba or vegetable broth, to reach your desired consistency.

To simply switch things up a bit, consider using black beans instead of pinto.

Make it an Italian-inspired soup by using white beans and marinara sauce in place of the salsa, plus a generous handful of fresh or dried herbs (heavy on the basil and parsley, please!)

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