Yesterday, I did a post about how much the use of Mojo de Ajo has improved my cooking and so I thought I would talk about some other “secret ingredients” that have improved my cooking over the years.
In Terry Hope Romero’s cookbook Viva Vegan I learned about Aji Amarillo peppers, I soon found it at Fiesta and it’s been a staple ever since. Fiesta has both the paste and the peppers but I have stuck with the paste because it’s just so dang easy to use. Aji amarillo is a pepper that is mostly used in Peruvian food where, as I understand, they use it in just about everything. It’s from the family Capsicum baccatum which is full of peppers we don’t use a lot here in the states. The only one I’m familiar with is the Peppadew. I have heard that this family is easier to grow here because we don’t have the same pests, ours go after bell peppers and jalapeno, but I didn’t have much luck this summer. Actually, none of my peppers grew so it probably had something to do with me and my inherent laziness.
The pepper paste is good in all sorts of things, one of my early favorites was coating tempeh in it and then grilling with it as I learned in Viva Vegan. But, adding a bit to anything that could use a bit of fruity, delicious, spiciness like corn chowder and salsas is great too. I learned that in Peru they use it in cheesy sauce and, truly, that is where it really shines. One of my all time favorite recipes is the Mac Daddy from Veganomicon and when I added some Aji to the sauce it really took the dish to the next level. Like, best thing I ever had level. Like, I can hardly even look at this picture because I can’t stand to remember how good it was. Other changes we made to the Mac Daddy is using miso instead of mustard, a bit of lime instead of lemon, adding more flour, and using panko on top in the final baking. In the picture below I actually used some old flour tortillas and it was just wonderful.
So if you see some around grab it and start experimenting. I bet it would be just wonderful in homemade queso.
I think Mr. Smurf started working on dinner around noon yesterday. Actually, no, it was the night before when I reminded him to soak the beans. The only drawback, really, to working with beans is the soaking. You always have to be prepared. Once he and I traveled across the country selling burritos along the way and we had beans soaking in the back of the station wagon at all times. It was just so cost-effective to make the burritos from dried beans that we had to do it and we didn’t have time to cook them all day without soaking over night. That often led us to some backwoods campground filling up our giant stockpot to start soaking beans at 2am. It was, honestly, the best time ever. We traveled from Illinois to California up through Washington, across the middle, all the way down to Charleston South Carolina, then up through Maine and came back through Canada where we had a big pot of beans with us as we crossed the border. Sometimes Mr. Smurf would take a nap the next day while the beans were cooking.
Now we have things like running water and built-in stoves so making beans is considerably easier but it still takes awhile. Sometimes, I start them before work in the crockpot without soaking first but in some ways that is even harder for me because I have to get up two, or even three minutes earlier. In the winter (which it finally is here in Texas as of yesterday) I prefer to soak them the night before and then just cook them on the stove in a big pot over low heat.
After he started the beans at noon he made the seitan chorizo sausages so when I got home after work the house smelled amazing, like the best restaurant in the world. Sadly, it wasn’t until hours later that dinner was finally ready but it was so worth the wait. The recipe yielded a giant pot of beans that will last us the rest of the week. And the beans were delicious. They would have been just perfect with some pico de gallo on top but I didn’t have any. As it was, they were only fantastic. I loved the chorizo especially. The texture of it cooked in the beans was exactly what you would expect from the spicy Mexican sausage.
If you haven’t checked out Viva Vegan yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Even if you aren’t even close to vegan you will find so many recipes that are just so well thought out and explained from all over Latin America that you will discover all sort of new techniques and ideas. And if you like vegan meat the recipes in Viva Vegan are the best I ever tried. If you have the book and haven’t made arepas yet do yourself a favor and learn to make them, I have made breakfast arepas, barbecued arepas, and Venezuelan arepas because they are so easy to do. And if you are curious about what all is in the book check out Kitteh’s blog because she has made so many of the recipes and she does it all without gluten and soy!
Latin American style brunch is probably my most favorite meal to eat. It all started, I think, with migas and then branched out to chilaquiles, polenta rancheros, gallo pinto, and of course the breakfast taco. I wanted something really simple for brunch this week and I had some sausage on hand so I thought of making Sausages & Greens. This is a recipe that I first discovered in Vegan Brunch but has now entered my regular rotation to the point where I improvise regularly. I had sausages and Kale and I wanted to make it but I had already had the same meal with grits earlier in the week and I was really craving a breakfast sandwich. That is when I realized arepas were, again, the only possible choice. The meal is like the bastard lovechild or Vegan Brunch and Viva Vegan my two favorite cookbooks. Arepas make so much sense as a breakfast sandwich, they are about the same size as English muffins and even made in a simiar way. I wonder if people in Venezuela eat them in the am. I think I am going to have to go on a fact finding mission to get to the bottom of it. I could even make a movie about “The Quest for the Breakfast Arepa” Just imagine me, cruising around Caracas, asking lots of strange questions about animal products, getting arrested as a spy, and then hopefully being extradited back to the US. It would probably be worth it.
I came up with a new scheme for cooking arepas this time too. Before they took forever (aka 20 minutes) grilling in my cast iron skillet but it dawned on me that I could use the George Forman grill which does both sides at the same time so it takes half as much time. All you have to do to make the arepas is mix 2 cups of masarepa with 2 cups of hot water, add a little salt, mix together and then grill for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile in cast iron skillet sauté an onion and a few cloves of garlic. Add sausage pieces when softened. When the sausage is browned add the greens, folding them in slowly so you can fit them all in the skillet. When the greens have cooked down a little add a half a cup of broth, some red pepper flakes, a little soy sauce, and a teaspoon of liquid smoke. Cover and steam for about 10 minutes. The steaming makes the greens nice and plump. I love it!
Overall the meal was a little dry so next time I am thinking I will add a spread onto the arepas as well or vegan cream cheese which would make it a little more breakfasty. Or maybe the salsa golf from Viva Vegan. It was still super tasty and involved greens so it was healthy in my book as well.
I bet you this won’t be the last time I make breakfast arepas.
If you live in Texas for a while it starts to make sense that you would barbecue everything.
Beans are often the easiest choice because although I love barbecued tofu, seitan, and tempeh as much as the next girl beans are the cheapest food to make a lot of and we haven’t been rolling in dough lately. Rolling in masa maybe but that’s another story. Wait, that is this story! I fixed up a huge pot of black-eyed peas with spinach and barbecue sauce and a little coffee for smokieness but I couldn’t decide how to serve the black-eyed peas. I thought of making cornbread but I was all out of cornmeal. I thought of tacos but wasn’t feeling it and didn’t have any shortening to make empanadas. Than it occurred to me that I could just make arepas!
Since I got Viva Vegan I have been kind of obsessed with these easy to make fat cousins or tortillas. The Venezualan ones I made first were probably the best because of the fantastic filling. I made the smaller Colombian ones as a side dish and they were delectable as well. I think that is when I realized how easy they come together.
All you do is mix salt, 2 & 1/2 cups of water with 2 cups of masarepa more or less until it resembles mashed potatoes then form into plump discs, fry or a griddle for 5 minutes on each side and then either stick in the oven for a while or eat hot off the griddle. The secret is to get the right masa, here are some more detailed instructions or a “recipe” as they say. Making arepas is even easier than making tortillas because you don’t have to get the press out and make them one at a time. After making a batch or two I don’t even have to measure anymore. I am so glad they have entered my repertoire.
It has been a depressing week. Dinger hurt his back really bad (he has a long body so it happens easily) and he might have to get surgery if it doesn’t get better. It is pretty terrible because he is usually the happiest dog in the world and instead he is just laying around in a lot of pain. His sister, Miss Willow, is depressed too because she has nobody to get super crazy with. So I have just been at home hanging out with the pups. Sorry for the downer post! He is going to get better! And it is almost July, I can’t wait for June to be over!
I went to Vegan Drinks and that was fun, I met a wonderful new friend who was kind enough to come over and give Dinger a massage. I was thinking maybe a chiropractor would help too so if you know one send me an email. Also at vegan drinks I almost won this robot, it was really embarrassingly funny because I thought I won it and I made a really big deal screaming but my friend got instead. He is so cute though! I wish it would have been me!
We have been continuing to cook from Viva Vegan! Two nights ago Mr. Smurf made the red seitan but something went wrong (I think I am going to blame the vital wheat gluten because I got it from bulk rather than Bob’s Red Mill) it didn’t really solidify and we had planned to use it for the Peruvian Skewers. Since it was more like stuffing than seitan we instead made a stir fry that was just ok. Then last night we rolled up the leftovers in tortillas to make toquitos (since everything is better in a fried tortilla) and topped with the red chile sauce (not pictured) the mix was fantastic! Much better than the sum of its parts. We were very happy to salvage the leftovers into something tasty!
I am so excited for this weekend!
I don’t know when it started but I love succulents. They are the one thing in the world I see for sale and I just can’t resist. I wish I was better at keeping them alive though! I have such a hard time researching them because I never know the names of the plants. So if you know the names of any of them help me out! The pink almond ones are dying and it makes me so sad so if you have any tips…
This first little cactus is one I got from a really neat store called “Happiness” but it closed down. Isn’t that depressing? Happiness is no longer… The lady at the store told me that she once saw a whole hillside covered in these plants and they were all 3 feet tall. It is called Cephalocereus senilis (Old Man Cactus).
My mom bought this one for me from the Natural Gardner. I think it was called a chocolate soldier and I know it is from Madagascar but I haven’t been able to find it online. Luckily, it seems to be thriving!
This grouping was a house-warming gift from my consigliere and bff Amanda. The big fan one didn’t look like it was going to make it for a while but it is going strong now. The little green ones are from either home depot or lowes and they are just sprouting flowers like crazy. But the cutest ones, the little pink almonds are not doing well at all. I got them on 1st Thursday a couple of months ago and then completely forgot everything they told me about them. Do they need less sun? Less water? They have only had rain to drink but maybe that is too much….
I got this one at 1st Thursday too, it is living inside though and doing a lot better. Maybe I should move the pink ones inside.
This little guy was just so cute that I couldn’t say no when I passed him at home depot the other day. I think lithops were the first succulent I was aware of that wasn’t a cactus or an agave. I wish I had 20 of them all lined up in a row.
I thought I would blog every day this week about something fabulous I have made from Viva Vegan, but yesterday I was just too exhausted to cook anything and forced Mr. Smurf to heat up frozen tots and nuggets. He also made guacamole because the avocados were in a state of immaculate perfection. It seems silly to blog about it BUT that guacamole recipe was really good; different than I usually make it and so flavorful. I loved it.
Hope everyone is well and enjoying the long days of summer!