My dad’s side of the family lives in El Paso, Texas. We've visited every couple of years for as long as I can remember. There isn’t much in El Paso but it’s proximity to Juarez means it has some pretty excellent Mexican food. We've been going to one particular family-runned restaurant called Avila’s for decades. I have such fond memories of going there with my immediate family, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. As a kid, I remember staring in wonder when my dad told me his mole had chocolate in it. I remember thinking chocolate steak, gross!
As a kid (and who am I kidding, as an adult too) our favorite was always the sopapillas, these puffy, deep-fried hollowed Mexican doughnuts. We’d poke a hole in the corner and pour in as much honey as possible. It was always a delicious mess. The last time I went they began offering cinnamon sugar covered sopapillas, but I still prefer the original. Every meal ended with sopapillas, a dessert we never seemed to be able to find after we headed back to southern California. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who had even heard of them, which to my brothers and I, made them feel even more exclusive and special. They were our best kept secret.
Every meal ended with sopapillas but every meal also began with chile con queso. Sharp white melted cheddar with soft roasted green chilies. We’d slather it on tortillas and eat it with chips. Most of the time we ate so much chile con queso that we were full before the meal got there, but that didn’t matter because everyone knew it was the best part anyway. And as delicious as it was, this queso is nothing like that.
The first time I made this queso over Super Bowl weekend, I promptly texted my dad and his siblings “vegan queso!”. My dad's side of the family is hispanic and they know a thing or two about good Mexican food. I got a range of reactions and even some suggestions from my chile obsessed Uncle Mike. So I applied said changes and the result is something even my Texas family members could appreciate. It’s creamy and spicy and full of green chiles and fresh pico de gallo, and although you’d never know it, it’s completely vegan. Trust me, you won’t miss the cheese one bit, or even be able to tell it’s missing.
Makes about 3 cups
Adapted from: Food52
1 large tomato, seeded & diced
1 jalapeño, seeded & diced
1/4 large red onion, diced
1 small handful cilantro, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice, divided
1 cup raw cashews, soaked at least 4 hours
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 cup + 2 tablespoons water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (see notes)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 4-ounce can diced green chilis
Notes: 1/4 teaspoon cayenne makes this dish mild, 1/2 teaspoon makes it pretty spicy. I recommend starting with 1/4 teaspoon and adjusting from there.
Make the pico de gallo, in a small bowl toss the tomato, jalapeño, red onion, cilantro, and green onions with 1 tablespoon lime juice and set aside.
In the bowl of a blender blend the remaining tablespoon of lime juice, cashews, chili powder, paprika, nutritional yeast, water, salt, cayenne, and tomato paste until completely smooth. Adjust to taste, adding more lime/cayenne if needed.
Reserve a scant 1/4 cup of the pico de gallo. Stir the remaining pico de gallo and the green chilies into the queso and top with the reserved 1/4 cup.
Anyone who knows me knows I've had a long-time obsession with Indian food. As a practitioner of yoga and meditation, a student of ayurveda, a vegetarian, and a lover of all things Indian food, I sometimes think I was born into the wrong culture. Did you know an estimated 40% India's population are vegetarian? How cool is that?
When we lived in LA we went on a date night to our favorite indian restaurant and ordered the vegetarian special for two literally every single week. I've attempted cooking Indian food at home for years to no avail. It seems to always take hours, use hard-to-find ingredients, and never end up even half as good as in the restaurants. Unfortunately, Chicago's indian food scene is limited to a small neighborhood over an hour from us on the far north side so I've given Indian food at home another shot.
I've made this dish over and over and it's definitely restaurant-worthy with only a moderate amount of effort. Not only is it not filled with heavy cream (hello vegetable masala) but it's dairy and gluten free so everyone can enjoy.
Adapted from: Eat, Taste, Heal
For the Sauce:
3 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled & minced
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 small leek, finely chopped
3 tablespoons almond meal
2 tablespoons dried coconut
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (see notes)
1 tablespoon korma powder (recipe below)
1/2 cup chickpea flour
3 cups vegetable stock
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 large date, finely chopped
1 large handful cilantro
salt & pepper to taste
For the Vegetables:
8 onces yukon gold potatoes
6 ounces broccoli, chopped
6 ounces cauliflower, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
Notes: 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne makes for a rather mild to medium spiciness level. For no spice feel free to omit it altogether, for a hotter dish add more.
As with all Indian food, this dish tastes better on day 2 than day 1. Something about the spices blending together.
Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add coconut oil and heat until warm, followed by ginger and mustard seeds. Cook for about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the leek and cook until it has softened, about 3 minutes.
Add the almond meal, coconut, cayenne, and korma powder, and cook until the coconut begins to brown, about 5 - 7 minutes, stirring frequently.
Sprinkle in half of the chickpea flour and stir until the mixture becomes a thick paste. Slowly pour in half of the stock, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk as you sprinkle in the remaining chickpea flour followed by the remaining stock. Continue to whisk for about 5 minutes until the mixture thickens to a gravy-like consistency.
Reduce the heat to low. Stir in the coconut milk, lemon juice, tomato paste, and date and heat until the mixture is warmed throughout. Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce until it is smooth and creamy (alternately, transfer the mixture to a blender). Add a generous amount of salt (to taste) and adjust spiciness level by adding more cayenne if needed. Leave the sauce on low while you prepare the vegetables.
Bring about 1 inch of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Top with a steamer basket, making sure the water doesn't touch the basket. Meanwhile, chop the potatoes into bite size pieces, sprinkle with salt, and steam, covered, for 5-7 minutes or until tender. Transfer to the korma sauce. Repeat with broccoli and cauliflower which steam for about 2 minutes, mushrooms which steam for about 4 minutes, and bell pepper for about 2 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the korma sauce once cooked and then stir in the peas.
Top the vegetable korma with chopped cilantro and serve with rice and/or naan bread.
For the Korma Powder:
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds
1 tablespoon whole mustard seeds
1 tablespoon whole fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon whole cardamon seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cloves
Place all the ingredients in a spice grinder or spice mill and blend to combine. Alternately, grind the whole seeds into a power using a mortar and pestle then stir in the rest of the spices (I did it this way). Store in an airtight container.
Notes: This makes about 1/2 cup of powder which can be used to make this vegetable korma several times, but feel free to half the recipe as well.
The first and only thing I missed when I became vegetarian almost three years ago was shredded chicken enchiladas. I don't even know if it was so much the chicken, more the texture, and the fact that it was enchiladas.
I grew up eating what my family called "Enchiladas de Crema" a dish my mom made about once a week and we all loved it. They were your traditional enchiladas with shredded chicken, green chilies, and jack cheese. The sauce was thick, creamy, and filled with tomatoes. I later learned when my mom taught be how to make them before I left for college the sauce was achieved through a nice mixing of crushed tomatoes and sour cream, hence the "de crema". My dad's family is hispanic, so there's a chance these enchiladas could have been somewhat authentic (not that we would have cared) but they probably weren't.
It's funny looking back on foods I ate as a child. I remember after I got married I begged my mom to track down the chicken and spinach crepe recipe I LOVED as a kid, only the find out the secret ingredient is a package of dry onion soup flavoring... And without sounding pretentious or ungrateful, some sort of veil was lifted. But alas, I chalk it up to generational food trends, because if you've ever read a cookbook from the generation before my parents it was undoubtedly filled with cups of mayonnaise, spam, and all the other wonders of the invention of processed food.
Needless to say, things have shifted a bit. And I'm happy to be part of the new trend - plant-based food (which makes me wonder how ridiculous our kids will find some of the foods we eat today). The enchiladas I make in my home now look a bit different, but haven't changed too much. We swapped shredded chicken for shredded sweet potato, flavored with spices, lime, some onion, cilantro and jalapeño. And we swapped tomato sauce and sour cream for avocado salsa verde, which might be slightly less creamy and decadent, but definitely just as delicious and much fresher. The pan of 8 still gets demolished in a day or two, if not sooner, and they're still just as homemade tasting at the ones my mom made as a kid.
Adapted from: Alexandra Cooks
1 batch Avocado Salsa Verde*
4 cups grated sweet potato, (~ 3 sweet potatoes)
1 small yellow onion
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 pinch cayenne (or more for extra spiciness)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 jalapeño, diced
1/4 cup cilantro, packed
2 large shallots, diced
2-3 tablespoons lime juice
1 can black beans
4oz can green chilies
4oz goat cheese, (optional)
avocado & cilantro (for serving)
Prepare the salsa verde, measure out 1 1/2 cups (12 oz) and set aside.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium low heat. Meanwhile, dice the onion and garlic. Add the olive oil, onions and garlic to the hot pan and cook until the onions are translucent.
Add the grated sweet potato, coriander, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, and salt to the onion mixture and stir to combine. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring several times to ensure even cooking.
While the sweet potatoes are cooking, roughly chop the cilantro then add it to a small bowl with the jalapeño, shallots, and lime juice then stir to combine. When the potatoes are soft, remove from heat and stir in the cilantro mixture. Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour about half of the salsa into the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Prepare the sweet potato, green chilies, black beans and goat cheese (if using) in a conveyer belt line.
One at a time, crisp the tortilla over open flame (or in a frying pan if you have an electric stove) until crispy and slightly charred on each side. Transfer the tortilla to a cutting board then fill with a big spoonful of sweet potato, beans, chilies, and cheese. Roll up tightly then place seam side down in the baking dish. Continue with the remaining 7 tortillas. Once finished pour the remaining salsa on top, cover, and back for 20 minutes covered, uncover, then back for another 10 minutes.
Serve with avocado & chopped cilantro.
Notes: They are excellent with the avocado salsa verde, which just so happens to be the very first recipe I ever posted (I had no idea what I was doing, but was so excited to be doing it!) but to save time you could totally use 12 oz store bought sauce of your choice. If you like spicy, I'm a fan of Trader Joe's Hatch Valley Salsa.