Thursday, May 20, 2010

Baked Pinto Beans, Enchilada Style

More recipe experimentation has been going on, though I've been caught up both with the end-of-the-school year and unwise decision on my part to teach a May term to make some extra cash. Somehow even a class that I've taught many times before becomes like slogging through molasses when it meets every day for almost three hours, just after the regular semester is over and everyone is already tired, students and professors alike. It's also cutting in to my summer research/writing time, which I value dearly, though I thought I'd have more energy to do both. Oh well - it will be over soon enough. Meanwhile, I continue to puzzle over the quest to get a square meal on the table every night for my family, which most nights I manage to do, though I find myself getting in mental ruts where, when I try to come up with a dinner, I find myself stuck on certain themes and forgetting things I've made from the past that would be perfectly acceptable and delicious. Which is why I have this blog to remind me.

Experiments included a couple Indian dishes from the Madhur Jaffrey World Vegetarian book, which I remember as being good but when I tried to look up what I made just now, my mind drew a complete blank as I stared in the index at the hundreds of Indian recipes. Lentils? Potatoes? Spinach? I dunno. (See, I told you I'm tired).

I also tried a Mark Bittman recipe this week for Baked Pinto Beans, Enchilada Style, that blew me away. Though he describes it as "couldn't be easier," it actually was pretty time consuming, because to make the recipe truly amazing, you have to prepare a tomato sauce in a particular way. Basically the dish itself is just pinto beans (2 cans, drained) layered atop the tomato sauce, dotted with 1" cubes of cheese (1 cup), 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco, a cup of crumbled tortilla chips, baked 20-30 minutes. This part, it's true, was pretty easy, but the added step of the sauce making caused it to take considerably longer.

For the sauce, "Salsa Roja," I went to my local Mexican grocery store and bought a little bag of dried guajillo chile peppers. Poured boiling water over two of the peppers, soaked them, removed seeds and stems, minced. In a skillet, I sauteed them along with 2 onions, finely chopped, 4 minced cloves of garlic, then after those softened, 2 lbs. tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped, 1 T sugar, salt & pepper. I used fresh tomatoes so those also took awhile to core and peel, though he says canned ones are fine. You cook this for about 20 minutes, then stir in 1/4 cup minced cilantro and 3 T lime juice. I pureed it slightly with a hand blender then used it as the bottom layer for the aforementioned baked pinto beans. Oh, and I microwaved a sweet potato, chunked it up, and tossed it in as well - a variation he recommends - and this added considerably to the salty-sweet-crunchy-chewy-savory Tex Mex deliciousness of this dish. But if I do it again (and I plan to), I'm going to make the sauce ahead & freeze it. Soooo good. The guajillo chiles are essential - they make it really unique and smoky.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pad Thai

In my favorite food column, Mark Bittman's "The Minimalist," posted every Wednesday in the New York Times, there was a recipe recently for Pad Thai. This is one I've tried numerous recipes for. The premade, boxed Thai dinners with sauce are boring. Other recipes tasted inauthentic. But this one, finally, approximates what it's like to eat pad thai at a Thai restaurant. I altered it to be heavier on the noodles and lighter on the cabbage. I could not find bean sprouts at Whole Foods or Publix, so I skipped those - didn't feel like driving downtown to the Asian market. Could do this with or without shrimp - I used a mix of both shrimp and tofu.

Pad Thai

7 ounces rice stick fettucine-width noodles (can find in Asian section of most supermarkets)

2 Tablespoons tamarind paste (this stuff keeps forever, buy it cheap at Asian markets)
1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla-- also keeps forever & available at Asian markets)
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 garlic clove, minced
2 eggs
1/2 head of green cabbage, shredded
1 cup bean sprouts (I skipped these
1/2 pound peeled shrimp, pressed tofu or a combination
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 limes, quartered.

In a small saucepan, mix tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey, vinegar, and red pepper flakes. Heat on low until it simmers, turn off.

Put noodles in a big bowl and cover with boiling water. Check every five minutes, stirring occasionally, testing after 10 minutes to see if they are soft. Keep checking every five minutes until ready. When done, drain & drizzle with a tablespoon of peanut or canola oil.

While noodles are soaking, in a wok or big saute pan on medium heat, add a generous slug of neutral oil - canola or peanut oil, if you have it. Add scallions and garlic, saute one minute. Add eggs, scrambling, when they begin to set, add shredded cabbage. Stir and fry several minutes until cabbage begins to wilt. Add shrimp and tofu. When shrimp turns pink and tofu begins to brown, add noodles to wok along with the sauce. Top with peanuts & cilantro, squeeze lime over all.