Beans Are The New Black Friday

Black Friday isn’t what it used to be.

I say that not with sadness or nostalgia, but a deep sense of relief. Holiday sales will forever persist, pushing everything from lawnmowers to lingerie, but the singular focus on one big shopping day has dispersed to encompass the entire interval from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Door busters are digital and shipping is free; why bother waking up early to fight the crowds? This tradition of dubious appeal from the onset is now fully obsolete. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to redefine Black Friday.

Black beans are the antidote to Black Friday’s typical excess. Decidedly unglamorous, unassuming, and unpretentious, black beans won’t force you out of bed early or judge you for the previously night’s debauchery. Taking it a step further, braised black beans, gently stewed in velvety coconut milk and invigorating aromatics, speak of a wholly different sort of richness.

Rifling through the pantry and freezer, this combination of Southeast Asian staples spoke to me above the cacophony of typically autumnal herbs and spices. The fragrant, floral notes of makrut lime leaves and lemongrass share the spotlight, bolstered by the sharp undertone of ginger and jalapeno. Balanced by the natural sweetness of the coconut milk, it’s already so buttery that no additional oils need apply.

Take It Easy

For anyone else still weary from cooking marathons or hosting duties, I’ve got you. Just one step more complicated than a genuine dump dinner, you don’t even need to drain the cans of beans or dirty another dish. Go ahead, take other shortcuts like using pre-minced garlic or ginger paste; no one will be able to argue with the end results.

Serving Suggestions

Personally, I’m perfectly happy spooning these beans right into my mouth, straight out of the pot, while hovering over the stove. If you have more patience though, your time and effort will be rewarded when you round out this entree with proper sides. Ideally, add at least some come kind of starch to soak in all that savory potlikker.

  • Rice, be it basmati, jasmine, or any fluffy steamed long grain rice
  • Bread, thinly sliced and toasted
  • Stewed collard greens, meltingly tender
  • Arugula salad, for a subtly bitter contrast
  • Avocado, for a buttery bite of extra decadence

Alternately, switch up the prep to transform it into an entirely different dish.

  • Roughly mash to make them approximately the texture of refried beans, then use in tacos, burritos, tamales, enchiladas, etc
  • Add vegetable broth and serve as a soup, optionally pureeing some or all
  • Simmer rice right in the same saucepan to make one-pot beans and rice

Make It Your Own

There are no hard and fast rules here. Born out of convenience, this formula is ripe for adaptation. Almost everything is changeable, like…

  • Using chickpeas, white beans, or adzuki instead of black beans
  • Adding more or less garlic, ginger, and jalapeno, to taste
  • Switching up the seasonings with curry powder, chili powder, or lemon-pepper

Don’t Over-Think It

Black Friday can be a complicated mixture of emotions and memories, wants and needs, no matter what the reality of it is today. Black beans, however, should always be simple.

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“Love at first sight” strikes me as a concept only suited for works of fiction, but I do believe in inspiration at a glance. Perhaps that’s somewhat related?

First Generation by Frankie Gaw

Flipping through First Generation by Frankie Gaw, that’s all I could think of as every photo and word seemed to leap from the pages. A mixture of traditional and contemporary takes on Taiwanese cuisine, it speaks to me like a heartfelt love letter, not some quick fix compendium of semi-homemade meals. Crafted with such care, it’s about more than recipes. It’s about the people and places that make them so special, the memories attached to them that add more flavor than any spice or seasoning.

Grandma’s Pearl Meatballs

This isn’t a book review, mind you. I could never do proper justice to all this one has to offer. Instead, it’s my own response to such a fearless, passionate muse. Filled with poetic, immersive descriptions, you can easily picture the scene to experience the emotions, not just the flavors, behind every dish. That’s what really drew me to Grandma’s Pearl Meatballs, a humble yet visually stunning mixture of protein and grains. By coating the morsels in soaked rice before placing them in the steamer, you get a similar effect to a rice paper wrapper, but with more heft and nuance.

What Is Jade Pearl Rice?

The first thing I thought of was the lustrous, pearlescent jade bamboo rice in the pantry, which inspired a greener corresponding interior, too. This short grain rice is infused with bamboo extract, tinted light green by the chlorophyll. Some say it has a subtle vanilla taste, although your mileage (and perception) may vary. At least, it’s very pretty, providing excellent inspiration for an unconventional departure from the printed text.

Jade Pearl Meatballs

Naturally, the “meat” of these balls comes from white beans, bound lightly with white chia seeds to retain a moist, juicy, and soft interior. Cabbage is replaced with spinach for deeper emerald green hue, but the essential aromatics remain the same. It’s definitely not the recipe as intended, but the creamy and subtle bites are a delightful departure from the usual dumpling or meatball. They belong in their own category of deliciousness.

Continue reading “Pearl-Clutching”

There Goes My Gyro

Equal parts spectacle and street food, gyros are impossible to ignore. Spinning on a spit like a wind-up ballerina, glistening from the heat of an open flame, you may smell it before you see it, but the sight is positively mesmerizing.

The name itself comes from the Greek word meaning “turn” or “circle,” referring to this unique cooking method of continuous motion. Around and around it goes, edges caramelizing and crisping with each revolution. Periodically, as orders flow in, the pit master skillfully shaves paper-thin slices from the kebab, exposing the more tender meat within, beginning the process anew.

Make It Meatless

Before my fellow vegan and vegetarian friends recoil in horror, fear not: You can enjoy those same rich, highly seasoned prime cuts at home, without the meat, rotating spit, or perilous open flame.

Mushrooms Over Meat

Traditionally made from lamb, beef, chicken, or even pork, it’s a clear case where the actual protein in question is far less important than the herbs and spices involved. Especially when you layer in fresh vegetables and creamy tzaziki for serving, the entree could be made of pretty much anything. Enter: Sugimoto koshin shiitake mushrooms.

Renowned for their intense umami flavor, these mushrooms add a depth of taste to the gyro that’s hard to beat. Drying the shiitake mushrooms concentrates their flavor, resulting in a rich, savory, and remarkably meaty taste and texture. Koshin in particular are ideal for this application since they’re broad and flat, just like the delicate shavings of fresh gyro meat.

Serving Suggestions: Be Your Own Gyro

The beauty of the gyro lies in its versatility. Keep it simple or go all out; you won’t be disappointed even if you just go to town as is, no garnishes or accompaniments required.

  • Classic Greek Style: Layer the seasoned, air fried shiitake mushrooms in warm pita bread, accompanied by crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, sliced onions, and a generous drizzle of tangy tzatziki sauce. It’s a classic for a reason!
  • Gyro Bowl: Create a wholesome gyro bowl by arranging a bed of fluffy quinoa, rice, or couscous, topped with the shiitake mushrooms, cucumber ribbons, pickled red onions, and a dollop of hummus. A squeeze of lemon adds the perfect finishing touch.
  • Mediterranean Wrap: Swap the pita for a whole wheat tortilla or lavash and fill it with your favorite gyro ingredients, along with some roasted red peppers and olives for contrast.
  • Gryo Hummus: Layer tender shiitake gyro on top of creamy hummus and serve with pita chips or cut veggie crudites for an instant party starter.

Hella Halal

With its roots firmly planted in the Middle East, the protein in question has historically been halal, but that’s not always the case anymore. For the concerned eater, swapping the mystery meat for shiitake mushrooms is a foolproof approach to ensure you’re avoiding a meal that’s accidentally haram.

What’s more, Sugimoto shiitake in particular are certified kosher AND organic on top of that. When serving a diverse range of discerning eaters, it’s the ace up your sleeve for an incredible meal that everyone can enjoy.

Indulge your senses with plant-based gyros, made effortless in an air fryer for your busiest weeknights or more elaborate celebrations. They are, quite frankly, a vegan masterpiece, celebrating the rich history of the Greek gyros while showcasing the incredible flavor of shiitake mushrooms.

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The Ultimate Lasagna: A Make-Ahead Miracle

Scrolling through my mental Rolodex of meals that are quick, easy, and just the right balance of healthy and comforting on a hectic day, lasagna is typically not at the top of that list. It’s high time we changed this.

Make Ahead Lasagna

Neatly contained in a spacious baking dish, lasagna is the ultimate pasta casserole that can be made in large quantities to be enjoyed many times over. One batch could feed a small family for days, or a single person for weeks, when stored correctly. Either unbaked or ready to serve, you can stash it in the fridge or freezer with no degradation of quality; a huge feat considering how many store-bought options turn out.

Never settle for mushy noodles swimming in watery, sweet sauce ever again! Gentle people, we can rebuild it. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s best plant-based lasagna. Better, easier, tastier.

Tips For Success

It’s not so much technique that determines the outcome of this recipe, but the ingredients themselves. No cooking experience necessary, anyone can pull off this culinary feat with the right components.

  • The lure of no-boil noodles is tempting, but you must resist! Since they sit immersed in sauce for so long, they’ll have long passed the point of al dente and gone straight to mushy by the time you set the table.
  • Quality marinara is crucial. It plays a huge role in flavoring the whole dish, so if there was ever a time to splurge on the good stuff, this is it. Normally I’d make the case for starting from scratch, but for a quick fix meal, it’s okay to take an assist.
  • NEVER get anything less than the best tofu, AKA Hodo Organic Extra Firm Tofu. It’s rich, dense, and has a unique, subtly savory taste that allows it to transform into both meaty protein and creamy ricotta in a snap. While some may look at the pasta as the backbone of lasagna, it’s the filling that really lays down the foundation for flavor. Accept no substitutes for the best results.

Ideas for Adaptation

The beauty of a tried-and-true lasagna recipe is that it allows room for adaptation. Make it your own with any of your favorite herbs, spices, vegetables, and proteins without throwing off the delicate balance. Every batch can be a little bit different, and thus never boring, no matter how many times it’s on the dinner menu.

  • Seasonings: Italian seasoning, featuring basil, oregano, rosemary, marjoram, and thyme are of course classic, but that’s not the only option here. Consider something a bit spicier, like Cajun or Creole seasoning, bright like lemon-pepper, complex like curry powder, aromatic like za’atar, and so on. The only limit is your imagination, and spice rack!
  • Vegetables: Use fully cooked vegetables so they don’t water down the filling as they cook. That means sauteed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, grilled zucchini or eggplant, and more are all fair game. If you want to add greens, use frozen chopped spinach, kale, chard, or collard greens that have been thawed and very thoroughly drained; squeeze them really well to get all the liquid out.
  • Proteins: You’re already getting a ton of protein from the Hodo tofu ricotta, but in case you’re craving something meatier, you can beef up the filling, with all sorts of plant-based proteins. Saute your favorite meatless grounds before adding them to the marinara sauce to transform it into a hearty bolognese. If you’re focusing on more whole foods, try the same trick with lentils; red, green, or brown are welcome here! Even chopped up chunks of seitan or vegan sausage can add a satisfying meaty bite into every forkful.
  • Dietary Restrictions: Gluten-free? There are great gluten-free noodles on the market now, made from chickpeas, rice, corn, and/or lentils. Read labels carefully to find the best option for you.

Prep Once, Eat All Week

The creamy Hodo tofu-based ricotta, layered throughout strata of tender pasta sheets and robust red sauce, is fortified with cream cheese, thickening, stabilizing, and enriching it all at once. This simple trick ensures that you’ll have picture-perfect slices of lasagna every single time.

Best of all, it acts as insulation from ice crystals in the freezer, making it the ideal dish to make ahead, toss in the deep freeze, then heat and eat as needed. The tofu ricotta is so undeniably cheesy that it really doesn’t need the finishing flourish of vegan mozzarella on top… But then again, has there ever been such as thing as too much cheese?

Don’t answer that. Just pass the lasagna, please.

Continue reading “The Ultimate Lasagna: A Make-Ahead Miracle”

Hatch A Plan For Green Chiles

Forget Christmas; hatch chile season is really the most wonderful time of the year.

Throughout the month of August, the air across Texas and New Mexico will be thick with smoke, streaming out from roasters cranking at full bore all hours of the day. As chiles tumble over the flames, their skin blistering and crackling like fireworks, they quickly char to a matte black finish. Intoxicating aromas assault the senses, so intense that you can practically taste it from a mile away.

You’ll mark you calendar by it too, once you get a bite of those freshly roasted beauties; earthy, smoky, and with a subtle, smoldering spice.

What’s So Special About Hatch Chiles?

The relatively short growing window gives them an air of exclusivity, drawing in crowds clamoring to get their fill. What sets them apart from other peppers is their delicate balance of flavor and heat. Not so spicy that they’ll send you running for dairy-free milk, it’s more of a subtle, smoldering burn that gradually builds over time. According to the Scoville scale, they typically clock in between 1,500 and 2,500 units, which is roughly comparable to poblano or Anaheim peppers.

While you can eat them raw, it’s not recommended; roasting them completely removes the initially harsh, bitter notes by caramelizing the natural sugars, transforming the flesh into a silky, smoky treat.

How Can You Cook With Hatch Chiles?

Given the opportunity, load up your freezer with a few pounds of freshly roasted chiles to enjoy their unique flavor all year round. People go wild for the green fruits, indulging their cravings from breakfast to dessert. A glance through HEB turns up gems like:

More traditional recipes incorporate them into cornbread, salsa verde, chili, and most importantly of all, hatch chile stew.

What Is New Mexico-Style Hatch Green Chile Stew?

The first written recipe for green chile stew dates back to the 1940s, published by renowned New Mexican cook and author Fabiola Cabeza de Baca. A humble, homey affair, the recipe included pork, potatoes, and roasted green chile peppers, which has since become the blueprint to an indispensable staple of New Mexican cuisine.

Unsurprisingly, my version takes a few liberties for the sake of ease, nutrition, and plant-based adaptations, but overall stays true to the spirit of the dish. Tender chunks of meatless protein simmered slowly in a rich broth, infused with the smoky, earthy flavor of those alluring chiles take on greater depth alongside potatoes, onions, garlic, and seasonings like cumin and oregano. The result is a hearty, comforting dish that warms you from the inside out, and makes you feel like you’re right at home in the Southwest.

Whether enjoyed on a hot summer afternoon, crisp fall day, or as a cure for a chilly winter evening, hatch green chile stew is a dish that will leave you wanting more.

Continue reading “Hatch A Plan For Green Chiles”

Special Delivery: Mailbox Lasagna

If you can make cookies in the car, why can’t you make lasagna in the mailbox?

This was the thought that propelled me forward on my next wild experiment. If global warming is going to get worse, I can only get weirder in response.

Why Lasagna In A Mailbox?

Many news stations like to offer this tantalizing idea as a quirky way to lighten the mood when oppressive summer heat sets in. The earliest reference I can find to it is from 2019, attributing it to the Nation Weather Service, but I can’t find that original reference. What’s more alarming is that despite being re-posted and shared thousands of times, I couldn’t find evidence that anyone had actually tried it. That’s where I come in.

The idea is that by prepping your meal in advance, stuffing it in a hot mailbox all day, it would bake though pure solar power, keeping the kitchen cool and saving electricity. I’m dubious that the actual cost savings would add up to a full cent, but given how prone my state is to rolling blackouts, I’ll do everything I can to conserve.

How To Make Mailbox Lasagna

The procedure is pretty much as you’d imagine, starting with your favorite lasagna recipe.

  • Use any lasagna recipe you prefer, scaled down accordingly to fit your pan. Use only fully cooked components (no raw proteins) to prevent potential food poisoning. While unlikely, it’s better to be safe than sick.
  • Make sure you use no-boil noodles, no matter what the recipe originally calls for.
  • Cover with foil to seal in the heat before placing it in the mailbox. Close the door and lock it if possible. This is to keep both nosy neighbors and hungry critters out.
  • Go about your day and let the lasagna “bake” for 6 to 10 hours.
  • Handle carefully, with potholders, because it will be hot! Remove the foil to check that the cheese has melted and your pasta is al dente. It won’t brown due to the lack of intense direct heat. The Maillard reaction only occurs at 149°C/300°F and higher.

Tips and Tricks

There are a lot more variables to contend with when using a mailbox instead of an actual oven. Bear in mind these factors before writing it into your dinner menu:

  • Ideally, plan this experiment for a Sunday or federal holiday so there’s no mail delivery that might end up in your meal.
  • Start by cleaning out your mailbox. If it’s anything like mine, it’s also full of dust, dirt, and the occasional spiderweb. None of those are great seasonings, so you’ll want to give the interior a good rinse before adding food.
  • Select a metal pan to better conduct heat, and make sure it fits inside your mailbox. I’d recommend a loaf pan in most cases, unless you have a giant mailbox equal in size to a conventional oven.
  • Start around late morning (10 or 11am) when the mailbox is in direct sunlight. There needs to be a high of at least 105℉ (40°C) outside to attempt this with any level of success. Sorry if it’s not as brutally hot in your neck of the woods; it simply won’t work otherwise.

What Does Lasagna Cooked In A Mailbox Taste Like?

Here’s the thing: It’s fine. Edible, for sure. The cheese comes out melt-y-ish if not fully melted (though your mileage may vary depending on your brand), the pasta is soft enough after sitting and soaking in sauce for a few hours, and if you started with flavorful sauce and filling ingredients, it tastes as good as those did to begin with.

It’s not as good as lasagna baked in the oven because it lacks the textural contrast of crispy edges, the caramelized bits and browned surfaces. It’s a novelty that can amuse your friends and scare your neighbors, not a culinary treasure.

Honest Thoughts On Mailbox Lasagna

Is it the best lasagna you’ve ever eaten? No.

Is it the easiest lasagna you’ve ever made? Also no.

But is it the silliest and most fun lasagna you’ve ever tried? Absolutely a strong contender. I’d love to hear if you’ve come up with something wackier, because that would be a must-make for me.