A Dying Art

After the garish plastic skeletons of Halloween are cleared away, something far more haunting, yet entirely joyous remains in their wake. Sugar skulls, glittering sweet crystals dried into the shape of a human head, shine in the dark of night to honor the dearly departed on Día de los Muertos.

When the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31st, deceased loved ones can return and spend the day with their families, drawn to the calavera made in their likeness. Decorated with colored icing, the most basic are technically ghoulish sugar cubes, super-sized for a couple gallons of coffee, but not exactly something you’d want to consume. Most artists incorporate inedible media like feathers, glitter, sequins, foil, and fabric, treating them more like sculpture than food, since there’s no such thing as too colorful nor too flamboyant to match the most vivacious personalities.

Traditionally, the “glue” that binds these sweet offerings together is either egg white or meringue powder, but for a simple veganization, this is another job for aquafaba. Just because you don’t eat it, doesn’t mean you can’t make it cruelty-free, too.

Contrary to the name itself, Día de Muertos is a truly celebration of life. Why not make it a sweet occasion with these sugary monuments, recalling the spirits of those no longer with us?

Continue reading “A Dying Art”

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Unholy Guacamole

Don’t judge a book by its cover, a person by their clothing, or a dip by its color. The comparison is inevitable so I’ll go ahead and say it: The following recipe, no matter how brilliantly described or lovingly plated, will always and forever look like a glorious mountain of cow plop, steaming away on a hot summer’s afternoon.

Just avert your eyes and dig in. The smoky, spicy, earthy flavor of cocoa mole awaits your taste buds if you can suspend disbelief. Presenting a bold alternative to the ubiquitous green guacamole filling bowls across the country for Super Bowl festivities, it won’t score any points for presentation, but may just win the snacking game.

Yield: 2 Cups

GuacaMole

GuacaMole

When guacamole meets mole, the results may not be pretty, but the flavor is out of this word. This creamy, smoky, spicy, and earthy mashup will tempt you to double (or triple) dip.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • 1 Teaspoon Chipotle Powder
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground White pepper
  • 2 Avocados
  • 2 Tablespoons Lime Juice
  • 1 Small Heirloom or Medium Roma Tomato, Chopped
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
  • 2 Tbsp Fresh Cilantro, Minced
  • 2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced

Instructions

  1. Combine the cocoa, spices, and salt in a medium bowl and mix well.
  2. Pit, dice and scoop the avocado flesh out, adding it to the bowl along with the lime juice. Very roughly mash with a fork, incorporating all of the dry ingredients but keeping the texture rather chunky.
  3. Mix in the tomato, garlic, cilantro, and scallions last, stirring until the vegetables and herbs are equally distributed throughout the dip.
  4. Serve with chips or cut vegetable crudites.

Notes

Enjoy right away or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1/4 cup

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 68 Total Fat: 6g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 4g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 71mg Carbohydrates: 5g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 0g Protein: 1g

Make Room for Mushrooms

Cornbread has near universal appeal, although the particulars can be quite controversial. I’ve clumsily fumbled my way through this timeless debate before, the perpetual feud between the sweet and the savory, typically erring more on the sweet side of the fence. Given my penchant for pastry, this should surprise exactly no one, especially considering the fact that it took me over 10 years of recipe development to finally launch a cookbook of full meals, not just desserts, upon the world. Now, older and at least a little bit wiser, I realize there’s room on the table for both sorts of a-maize-ing dishes.

Not just savory but full on umami and sparkling with warm spices, this new approach may just hold the key to cornbread harmony, or at least win over a few more fellow sweet-toothed bakers like myself. A bold departure from my typical approach, I found inspiration from the Mexican flavors in BLENDABELLA, a ready to eat seasoned mushroom mix. Tempting as it was to just open up a jar, insert a fork, and call it a day, those tender portabella pieces combined with tomatoes, peppers, and plenty of piquant chili powder were a perfect addition to this humble side.

Tender, fresh corn kernels would be another welcome inclusion, but honestly, there’s no need to get all dressed up and fancy for soulful home cooking like this. Each bite resounds with a comforting warmth, amplified by the natural, earthy richness of everyone’s favorite fungus.

Here’s hoping that critics will be equally compelled by this divergent take on cornbread, since I’m entering the recipe into the Summer Blogger Recipe Challenge! For more information and inspiration, check it out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. BLENDABELLA Mushroom Blends are available for purchase online. (Please note that the Rustic Tuscan variety contains dairy, but both the Zesty Mexican and Coconut Thai Blends are 100% vegan.)

Where do your loyalties lie in the great cornbread debate? Sweet or savory? Simple or spicy? Or… given this new path to explore, downright umami?

Umami Mexi-Cornbread

1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Cups Coarse Yellow Cornmeal
2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Zesty Mexican BLENDABELLA
1 1/4 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1/3 Cup Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet or round baking pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, paprika, and salt. Stir in the BLENDABELLA and toss to coat thoroughly with flour. This will help prevent all those luscious mushroom pieces from simply sinking to the bottom.

Separately, whisk the non-dairy milk, vinegar, and oil to combine before adding these wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Mix with a wide spatula just enough to bring the batter together smoothly, although a few errant lumps are just fine to leave be.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan, smoothing out the top and lightly tapping it on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown on top and edges just begin to pull away from sides. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out cleanly.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Enjoy warm or at room temperature for the most savory satisfaction.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe

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.

Yield: Makes 3 - 4 Servings

Instant Fiesta Soup

Instant Fiesta Soup

If you can open a can and operate a microwave, you can feed yourself very well indeed. 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.

Prep Time 1 minute
Cook Time 4 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Ladle into bowls and top each with avocado and chives or scallions. Dig in!

Notes

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!)

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 152 Total Fat: 6g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 4g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 697mg Carbohydrates: 22g Fiber: 8g Sugar: 4g Protein: 6g

True Gossip

Rumors are flying about the new taco spot in Nob Hill, but the buzz is so much more than mere gossip. Although that’s the translation of Chisme, the bespoke restaurant has already proven itself a worthy contender in a city teeming with Mexican eateries. Menu options are limited, focused on a short list of fillings to swaddle in soft, handmade tortillas, served two per order. Simple yet irresistible appetizer staples like chips and guacamole or fried potatoes do beckon, but stay focused here. Take a closer look at those taco options. Not only are the vegan choices clearly marked, but compared to the more meaty entrees, they dominate the colorful paper printout.

Fusion is the name of the game for these unconventional offerings, such as eggplant slathered in peanut mole, or plantains and black beans paired with a creamy coconut ranch dressing. Perish the thought of strained, unsatisfying attempts at “authenticity” here; flavor comes first, regardless of origin. Chisme caters to a different sort of crowd, and those customers seem to be eating it up.

Order at the front, grab a number, and take a seat at the communal table or benches. One might call the space spare and the service no-frills, but it’s warm and friendly, open and inviting, regardless. Besides, in a matter of minutes your surroundings will become irrelevant as a hot plate of food drops in front of you. If there’s only one dish to order, it’s the Jackfruit Taco. Marinated in a savory sauce and fried to crispy perfection, it remains juicy inside, with an impossibly meaty bite all the way though. Greens and cabbage are par for the course, adding a bit of freshness and crunch to the conversation, but the unexpected brightness of the mint verde sauce truly seals the deal. It sounds like a crazy combination, but trust me, it just works.

Don’t sleep on that fiery green hot sauce that comes on the side, either. It’s the sort of condiment that people would steal if it was put into bottles, or for those with more restraint, buy by the case if it was sold in stores. If the heat becomes overwhelming, cool down with a dairy-free coconut horchata for dessert. The sweetness of this cinnamon-spiked elixir could easily rival that of a proper milkshake, but is a welcome refreshment on a hot day.

Stop the gossip and get the facts. Chisme is the real deal.

Tamale Take Down

“They’re pretty good… But I’ve had better,” the woman sitting at a neighboring booth leaned across the table, whispering conspiratorially.

Seated in one of the most highly regarded vegan restaurants in the bay area, luxuriating in some of the most masterfully composed dishes around, this stunning utterance was enough to induce whiplash. Snapping back into reality out of a food-induced daze, it took a moment to re-focus and discover the source of such heretical words. A small woman with a kind face looked back at me, eyes gleaming with clarity- Or perhaps it was a hint of mischief.

The dish in question was a tamale, lavished with smoked black beans, spiced pepitas, and a luscious avocado crema. Impeccably plated with all the flourishes one would expect of a fine dining establishment, it was a sight to behold, and certainly no slouch in the flavor department. In fact, up until that moment, this could have very well been the pinnacle of tamale artistry in my opinion. Now that impression was suddenly questionable, an uninformed statement based upon only half of the story. I had to get myself these purported transcendent tamales.

I had to go to Flacos.

An east bay institution serving up an entirely vegan menu, the bill of fare is short and sweet. You won’t find any overstuffed “Mission-style” burritos or loaded nachos here, but real deal Mexican meals. Tacos slide out of the kitchen on handmade corn tortillas, thick and crisply toasted. Masa is made from scratch every day, and that dedication to the craft pays off in huge gustatory dividends. The scent of cooking cornmeal wafts out onto the street early in the day, tempting passersby even as breakfast time has barely ended.

Huarache is a regional delight that doesn’t make a big splash in most American states, which is a real shame given its fool-proof flavor combinations. Soft slabs of fried masa lurk beneath a veritable forest of romaine and cilantro, huge servings of refried pinto beans, and slathered with rich, creamy avocado salsa. It’s worth noting that the avocado salsa is available in both mild and spicy formats, but unless you’re a glutton for punishment, I would advise keeping it cool. The heat on the spicy rendition is no joke; I’ve seen grown men weep over their taquitos upon discovering this fatal flaw.

On cool, foggy days, nothing satisfies like a bowlful of pozole, a very simple soup of tomatoes and hominy. While it’s not quite on par with the other, flashier staples, it’s sure to hit the spot if you’re craving a bit of comfort.

But enough beating around the bush. The main attraction, the thing we’ve all been waiting for, the banana leaf-wrapped tamale is hands-down the single item you must order if you can only pick one. Though the mole, caper, potato, and green olive filling sounds like a discordant combination, suspend disbelief and give it a try. The reasons why it works so well remain a mystery, but you’ll never question it ever again. A true rarity in the crowded and heavily promoted bay area food scene, this particular promise lives up to the hype.

Tamales can be ordered a la cart or as a plate, complete with rice, beans, and salad. While you may feel more virtuous by selecting a fully balanced meal, the sides are nothing special. Get the most mouthwatering bang for your buck by doubling down on the tamales instead. It’s an easy choice that you’ll never regret, even for those with a penchant for fine dining. Flacos might very well hold the key to the best tamales you’ve ever had.