Cauliflower Taco Meat


The humble cauliflower. That funny looking vegetable I hated as a child, continues to surprise me. First there was cauliflower pizza crust, then Buffalo cauliflower, cauliflower steaks, and now, wait for it…cauliflower taco meat!

Replacing the spicy ground beef in traditional tacos, this mixture of cauliflower, mushrooms, walnuts and bold seasonings amps up the deliciousness and it’s a healthy mix of superfoods to boot! What’s not to love? And I swear, even if you think you don’t like cauliflower, mushrooms, or walnuts, if you like tacos, you will like this.

I stumbled upon the recipe at Pinch of Yum, one of my favorite food blogs (and their photography is amazing!). Intrigued, I knew what I was going to make with that head of cauliflower in the fridge. The only thing that made me hesitate was the two cups of walnuts the recipe called for. I know walnuts are super healthy, full of good fats, omega 3s, and loaded with antioxidants, but they also pack a wallop of calories, which I certainly don’t need. Since mushrooms are so meaty, especially cremini mushrooms, I decided to replace half the walnuts with them. The result wowed us!

And don’t limit this yummy mixture to tacos; it would make a great filling for burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, frittatas, taco salad and on and on. My mind is now working on a way to make this, with different seasonings, into a mixture for Italian recipes, lasagna, spaghetti sauce, meatballs, and stuffed peppers. And sloppy joes! I bet that would be wonderful!

The taco “meat” ingredients involve just a quick series of pulses in the food processor and then a half hour of baking, followed by a couple minute broil, then a sprinkling of fresh lime juice. While it’s in the oven, you can prep your taco accompaniments, so this is very doable on a weeknight after work. Plus, it reheats really well, and leftovers will not go to waste. Enjoy!

Cauliflower Taco Meat

Adapted from this Pinch of Yum recipe

3 cups cauliflower florets

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup chopped cremini mushrooms

2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

1/4 cup tomato sauce

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Fresh squeezed lime juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Place all ingredients except lime juice in the bowl of a food processor and pulse on and off until the texture of cooked ground beef. I found it easier to get the right texture by doing this in two batches, half of each ingredient in each batch. The first time I made it I did it all at once and half of it was almost like a paste—still tasted great, but just not the right texture. Transfer mixture to the baking sheet and spread it out in an even layer.

Bake for 30 minutes, stirring once at the half-way point. After the 30 minutes, turn oven to broil and broil 8-12 inches from broiler for a minute or two. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn. Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of lime juice and toss to distribute it.

That’s it. The “meat” is ready to use in tacos, burritos, taco salads, enchiladas, quesadillas, or whatever your heart desires. Reheats well and keeps several days in the fridge. Makes about 4 servings.

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Chinese Scallion Pancakes


Our favorite Chinese restaurant is The Tea House in St. Paul. I first heard about it years ago in a St. Paul Pioneer Press review. They gave it 4 out of 4 stars, something I hadn’t seen in any review before, so we had to check it out. We’ve been fans ever since.

I usually order their Szechuan Eggplant in Garlic Sauce—it’s amazing! My mouth is watering just thinking about it—spicy, sweet, and sour perfection. For a starter, we always get an order of their Shanghai Scallion Pancakes and they are delicious. Something made me think about them last week and I decided to see if there were recipes online for something similar. There were lots of recipes!

After perusing a bunch, I found they were all pretty similar. You make a dough of flour and boiling water, knead it, let it rest, and roll out your dough. Then you brush it with oil (or chicken fat—no thanks!), sprinkle with salt and scallions, roll jelly-roll style and then cinnamon roll style. After a final roll out into a round, you pan-fry them and serve them with a simple dipping sauce.

My first batch was made following an America’s Test Kitchen recipe found on The Splendid Table’s website. They were good, but I thought they would be better using less oil in the pan and more scallions in the pancakes.

For my second batch, in additional to using less oil, rather than rolling the dough initially into rounds, I followed directions from a recipe on the Omnivore’s Cookbook site to roll into a long, narrow rectangle, resulting in a longer coil that ultimately made for more flakiness in the pancakes.


In one of the many recipes I read, it mentioned that traditional Chinese flour results in flakier pancakes than regular all-purpose flour. They suggested using pastry flour or cake flour in place of some of the all-purpose flour, so in the second batch, I used one-third cake flour, one-third whole wheat pastry flour, and one-third all-purpose. I’m not sure how much it helped, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

The second batch was the definite winner. Crispy, flakey, scalliony, with no trace of greasiness. The dipping sauce added a salty, slightly sweet component to finish the dish and made it every bit as good as the Shanghai Scallion Pancakes from The Tea House. Enjoy!

Chinese Scallion Pancakes

Adapted from this Omnivore’s Cookbook Recipe and this America’s Test Kitchen recipe on The Splendid Table

Dipping Sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

1 scallion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon water

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoons honey (use agave or maple syrup for a vegan version)

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Scallion Pancakes:
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided (or a mixture of all-purpose, cake, and whole wheat pastry flours—half cup each)

3/4 cup boiling water

5 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil or a neutral vegetable oil like grapeseed or canola, divided

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

6 scallions, thinly sliced

For the Dipping Sauce: Whisk all ingredients together in small bowl and set aside.

For the Pancakes: Using a wooden spoon, mix 1 1/2 cups flour and the boiling water in a bowl to form rough dough. When cool enough to handle, transfer dough to lightly floured surface and knead until tacky (but not sticky) ball forms, about 4 minutes Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes to an hour.

While dough is resting, stir together 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil, the sesame oil, and remaining 1 tablespoon flour into a paste. Set aside.

Place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over low heat to preheat. Divide dough into three equal portions. Cover two pieces of dough with plastic wrap and set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the first piece of dough into a rectangle, approximately 12 x 8 inches. Drizzle with one-third of the paste and use a pastry brush to spread evenly over entire surface. Sprinkle with 1/3 teaspoon of the kosher salt and a third of the scallions.

On the long end, roll the dough into cylinder (jelly roll style). Coil the cylinder into a spiral (cinnamon roll style), tuck the end underneath, and flatten the spiral with your palm. Cover with plastic and repeat with remaining two pieces of dough, oil-flour mixture, salt, and scallions.

Roll each spiral into 7 or 8-inch round. Cover with plastic.

Place 1 tablespoon peanut oil in the skillet and increase heat to medium-low. Place one pancake in the skillet (oil should sizzle). Cover and cook, shaking skillet occasionally, until pancake is slightly puffy and is golden brown on the underside, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. (If underside is not browned after 1 minute, turn heat up slightly. If it is browning too quickly, turn heat down slightly.) Drizzle 1/2 tablespoon peanut oil over the pancake and use a pastry brush to distribute over entire surface. Carefully flip pancake. Cover and cook, shaking skillet occasionally, until second side is golden brown, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.

Uncover skillet and continue to cook until bottom is deep golden brown and crispy, 30 to 60 seconds longer. Flip and cook until deep golden brown and crispy, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer to wire rack. Repeat with remaining pancakes.

Cut each pancake into 6 wedges and serve, passing dipping sauce separately. Makes 4 appetizer servings.

To Make Ahead: Stack uncooked pancakes between layers of parchment paper, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours or freeze for up to 1 month. If frozen, thaw pancakes in single layer for 15 minutes before cooking.

Brussels Sprouts Elote-Style


Recently Pete and I crossed a “must-try” restaurant off our list. Pajarito, a St. Paul Mexican eatery, has been open a little more than a year and what a shame it took us that long to get there—the food was phenomenal! Everything we ordered, we’d happily get again, but the Brussels sprouts elote-style were change-your-life good. For reals!

Elote is Mexican street corn, but when Pajarito opened last winter, corn wasn’t in season, so they decided to give the elote treatment to Brussels sprouts. The flavors were amazing and as soon as we got home, I started googling to see if I could find a similar recipe. Lucky me, the restaurant’s actual recipe was written up by two local media outlets (that’s how popular these little nuggets of wonder are!).

Pajarito starts by deep-frying the Brussels sprouts, and because I refuse to venture into the land of deep-frying in my kitchen, I used their suggestion of oven-roasting as an alternative. Also, their recipe uses a homemade aioli. Being a little leery of making things with raw egg yolks and not wanting to buy a dozen pasteurized eggs when only one was needed, I simply added their seasonings to already-on-hand mayonnaise (Earth Balance’s Mindful Mayo).

Tajín is the brand of seasoning the restaurant uses to finish off this dish, along with a sprinkling of cotija cheese. After checking one store and not finding Tajín, I just went ahead and ordered it from Amazon. This mixture of lime, chilies, and salt really elevates the dish, so definitely use it if you can find it locally or have Amazon Prime.

The finished product was absolutely delicious—I thought it was just as good as the restaurant’s deep-fried version, minus the extra fat and calories. And by using vegan mayonnaise, all that’s needed if you want it completely plant-based is to skip the cotija. Enjoy!

Brussels Sprouts Elote-Style

Adapted from a recipe by chefs Stephan Hesse and Tyge Nelson of Pajarito in St. Paul, MN

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/8 cup Elote Aioli (recipe follows)

About a 1/2 tsp. Tajín brand seasoning (can be found in the international section at well-stocked grocery stores and from Amazon)

1 lime, cut into wedges

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place Brussels sprouts in a medium bowl and toss with olive oil and salt & pepper. On a parchment lined baking sheet, place sprouts, cut side down. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and crispy.

Transfer cooked sprouts to a bowl and toss with 1/8 cup Elote Aioli. Place sprouts on a serving dish/plate, sprinkle with Tajín seasoning, cotija cheese, then garnish with lime wedges, and serve. Makes about 4 servings.

Elote Aioli

Note: This is basically a flavored mayonnaise. Crema is a more sour crème fraîche and is available in most supermarkets and Mexican specialty food stores. The recipe will make more Elote Aioli than needed for this Brussels sprouts recipe, but the leftovers are good on just about anything, including in place of plain mayonnaise in tuna salad—awesome! Refrigerate remaining aioli in a tightly sealed container for up to a week.

1 cup mayonnaise

1 garlic clove, minced

¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¾ teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon dried oregano

¾ teaspoon hot sauce (I used Frank’s Red Hot)

1/4 c. crema (which I didn’t have so used a couple splashes of buttermilk)

½ to 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Salt, to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together first 8 ingredients (through lime juice). Season to taste with salt. Transfer aioli into an airtight container and refrigerate. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices


Temperatures here plummeted right after Christmas and have only crept above zero (Fahrenheit) a couple times briefly since. More of the same is forecast the next few days until a warm-up this weekend to the balmy teens and twenties. If ever there was a time for hearty soup, it’s now.

This soup, full of red lentils, carrots, and a little potato for heft, along with warming spices, is the epitome of hearty. And healthy too. Just what I needed after the last couple weeks of holiday foods—the too rich, too sweet, or just too much—foods I don’t normally eat. Setting the food reset button in the right direction is a pleasure when it tastes this good!

Don’t skip the lemon juice or the paprika oil, they really take this to the “Did I really just make something so out-of-this-world delicious?” level. Enjoy!


Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Complete Mediterranean Cookbook, along with a couple aspects of this New York Times recipe

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

½ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 quart vegetable stock or broth

1 cup water

2 medium carrots, diced

1 medium Yukon gold potato, diced

1 ½ cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more for extra seasoning

1 teaspoon dried mint, tarragon, or basil, crushed

1 teaspoon paprika (I used ½ teaspoon smoked hot and ½ teaspoon sweet)

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, for garnish

Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot. Add onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes, or until onion has softened. Stir in coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, and cayenne, cooking until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

Stir in broth, water, carrots, potato, and lentils and bring to a low boil. Reduce to a lively simmer, and cook until lentils are soft and carrots and potato tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, blend soup to desired consistency. If you’d like a few chunks of carrot and potato, stop before completely puréed. Stir in lemon juice. Taste and add additional salt and lemon juice if needed. Cover stockpot to keep soup warm.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small saucepan or skillet over medium heat until hot. Remove from heat and stir in mint and paprika.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a drizzle of the paprika oil and chopped cilantro or parsley. Makes 4-6 servings.

Zoodles and Crispy Tofu in Spicy Peanut Sauce


Zucchini noodles (zoodles) were one of the first things I planned to make when I got my spiralizer a couple years ago. And then I proceeded to spiralize potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beets many times for a number of recipes, but not zucchini. As much as I wanted to replace my pasta with zucchini noodles, I just couldn’t—it was a cooked zucchini texture thing.

Even with the suggestion of doing half pasta and half zoodles, I still resisted. It wasn’t until I came across a few recipes where you—wait for it—leave the zucchini raw, that I saw the zoodle light. They wouldn’t be mushy, they wouldn’t be soggy. It would be an al dente experience and I was on board!

Making just a few tweaks to this Pinch of Yum recipe, we’ve got a new summer favorite that’s quick enough to pull together on a weeknight and there are always leftovers for brown-bagging the next day. When packing your leftovers, keep the sauce separate and mix it in just before eating, otherwise the zoodles will absorb the sauce and you’ll lose the creamy sauciness that makes for a truly special dish. Enjoy!

Zoodles and Crispy Tofu in Spicy Peanut Sauce


Adapted from this Pinch of Yum recipe

One 15 oz. block of extra-firm tofu (I like Trader Joe’s organic)

1 tablespoon peanut oil

3-4 medium zucchini, ends trimmed (a combination of green and yellow zucchini looks especially nice)

Sliced scallions, for garnish

Sesame seeds, for garnish (I like the look of black sesame seeds, but white are just fine)

Spicy peanut sauce:
½ cup smooth peanut butter, preferably natural (or make your own, recipe here)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (then add water to measure 1/3 cup)

1/3 cup tamari (wheat free) or soy sauce, reduced sodium if you have it

¼ cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons Asian chili paste such as sambal oelek

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced

1 heaping teaspoon of fresh grated ginger root

To remove excess moisture from the tofu, place the tofu block between a couple layers of paper towels and set on a cutting board. Top with another cutting board and weigh it down with a large can of tomatoes or a couple cookbooks. Let sit for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile spiralize your zucchini and set it aside.

To make the spicy peanut sauce, place all sauce ingredients in a jar and shake until well combined.

Cut pressed tofu into bite-sized pieces. Heat peanut oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add tofu to pan and cook one side of tofu pieces until golden, about 3-4 minutes. Turn pieces and cook another 3-4 minutes.

Add ½ cup of the spicy peanut sauce to the tofu and let simmer for a few minutes. Using a spatula, turn tofu pieces, scraping sauce and any brown saucy bits from the bottom of the pan. Repeat the simmer, turning, and scraping a couple more times until tofu is crispy brown.

To serve, place zucchini noodles in individual bowls and top each with a ¼ cup of spicy peanut sauce, stirring to coat the zoodles. Top with some tofu pieces, sliced scallions, and sesame seeds. Makes 4-6 servings.

Chunky Potatoes with Garlic and Peanuts


A few years ago for my birthday, Pete gave me 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer, a cookbook I’d had my eye on for a while. Full of mouth-watering recipes layering spices and ingredients, there’s a huge section of both vegetable and legume curries to satisfy any vegetarian, plus biryanis, spice blends and pastes, and it starts with a detailed primer on curries. There’s also a large chapter called “Curry Cohorts,” that in addition to rice recipes, contains delicious curry accompaniments like coconut noodles, lentil pancakes, and all sorts of heavenly Indian breads from naan to roti to parantha.

After making a few recipes, I found several more I really wanted to try, but they called for fresh curry leaves. What!?! I had heard of curry powder, but never curry leaves. After searching large grocery stores and the co-op, I finally found them after checking several Asian food stores that, unfortunately, weren’t conveniently located for me.  Eventually, the book was set aside, and has been gathering dust.

Recently a Whole Foods Market opened up near our house and I had to check it out. Impressed with the variety of produce that includes items not found in other stores near me, I was so surprised and excited to see fresh curry leaves. Time to dig out 660 Curries again.

Fresh curry leaves


With my stock of fresh curry leaves, I perused the book to decide what to make. For a weeknight when there wasn’t a lot of meal prep time, Chunky Potatoes with Garlic and Peanuts was deemed the ideal recipe. It had a manageable list of ingredients, some intriguing flavor combinations, and called for fresh curry leaves!

The combination of sesame seeds, peanuts, garlic, and chiles piqued my interest, and smelled wonderful after being combined in the food processor. Not used to potatoes and tomatoes together, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this dish, but we weren’t disappointed. The sesame-peanut blend will release the most amazing aroma into your kitchen while cooking, and once combined with the rest of the ingredients, will morph into a delicious scent that makes it hard to wait until supper is ready.

The cookbook suggests this as either a side dish or stuffed into fresh pita. Since this was to be our main course (actually, our only course), and I didn’t have pita or naan (which would go so perfectly), I cooked up some brown basmati rice and served the potato dish over it. Gradually growing on me from one bite to the next, this spicy, hearty meal won me over and will definitely be made again . And I had plenty left over to take for lunch the next day (which I thought about and, even dreamt about, all night!). Enjoy!

Chunky Potatoes with Garlic and Peanuts

From Raghavan Iyer’s 660 Curries

2 tablespoons white sesame seeds

2 tablespoons raw peanuts or roasted peanuts (if salted, reduce salt later in recipe)

4 medium-sized cloves garlic, peeled

3 dried red Thai chilies or cayenne chiles, stems removed (I used about ¾ teaspoon crushed red chili pepper)

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 pound russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1 inch cubes, and submerged in a bowl of cold water to prevent browning (I didn’t peel my potatoes and skipped the bowl of water because I cut them up at the last minute, quickly, while the sesame-peanut mixture was roasting)

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes

2 teaspoons salt (use only one if both your tomatoes and peanuts already contain salt)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro (or parsley if you are cilantro-averse)

12 medium to large-sized fresh curry leaves (if you can’t find curry leaves, this dish will still be delicious)

Combine the sesame seeds, peanuts, garlic, and chiles in a food processor and pulse to form a gritty, sticky, mellow-smelling blend.

Heat the oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat. Scrape the sesame-peanut blend into the warmed oil and roast the mixture, stirring, until it starts to release it’s own oils and loosens, turning crumbly and nutty brown, 5-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain the potatoes, if they were in water.

Stir the turmeric into the sesame-peanut blend and cook for a few seconds. Then add the potatoes, tomatoes, (with their juices), 1 cup water, and the salt. Stir once or twice, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are fork-tender and the sauce has thickened, about 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and curry leaves and serve. Great as a side dish, stuffed inside a pita, along-side warm naan, or over brown basmati rice. Makes 4-6 main dish servings.

Garlic Scape Soup


Garlic scapes are one of the most unusual, yet beautiful, items you’ll find at the farmers’ market. Fleeting, too, as they’re only around for a few short weeks in early summer. They can be used in a variety of ways—in stir-fries, pesto, scrambled eggs, and even replace a utensil in this Grilled Mushroom Satay with Garlic Scape Skewers I made a couple years ago.


With a lovely bunch of scapes on hand, today I decided on soup. A pretty puréed soup full of healthy ingredients and mild garlic flavor. Potatoes give it body and some fresh spinach helps keep the vibrant green color, although the addition of the milk dilutes it a bit. Garnished with fresh thyme from my herb garden and a sprinkling of pistachios to maintain the green color scheme, we had a light, but delicious lunch.

Originally thinking this would need to go through a fine mesh sieve after puréeing, it didn’t. I discarded the thicker last few inches of each scape and this resulted in no fibrous pieces remaining after pureeing. Was it smooth as silk? No, but darn close. Enjoy!

Garlic Scape Soup

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Garlic scapes, cut into 2 inch pieces, to measure 2 cups (cut off the end from the flower bulb on up and if the other ends seem fibrous, cut off a few inches there as well)

½ a large yellow onion, chopped

1 medium to large russet potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish

A couple handfuls of fresh spinach leaves

4 cups good quality vegetable broth/stock (homemade is ideal)

1 cup milk of choice (whole, low-fat, cream, almond, evaporated, etc.)

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Chopped pistachios for garnish

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot or Dutch oven. When oil is hot, add scapes and onion, sprinkling with a little salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until scapes and onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in potato, thyme leaves, and spinach; add another small sprinkle of salt. Cook for an additional minute or two. Add stock/broth, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Cover pan, with lid slightly askew, and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Remove from heat.

Using an immersion blender, purée soup until very smooth (alternately, purée in a blender in small batches, venting the lid to let steam escape, and return to pot). Place pot over medium heat and stir in milk, cooking until heated through, but not boiling. Add sherry vinegar or lemon juice and stir. Season with freshly ground black pepper and additional salt, if necessary.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with reserved thyme and pistachios. Makes 4-6 servings.