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.
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.
We are officially Chicagoans. I must say packing then unpacking my kitchen was probably one of the most difficult things I've ever experienced. I think between Nate and I we uttered the words "If I have to unpack another (insert expletive here) mason jar I'm going to kill someone" at least a dozen times. But hey, at least all my kitchen stuff is being put to good use?
Parts of living in the city feel seamless; I live five minutes from whole foods and trader joes. Pumpkin is loving the dog friendliness of it all and is getting tons of walks. Everything is so accessible. I could go to a farmer's market 7 days a week if I wanted to. The energy of the city is right outside my door. It's good.
But parts feel more difficult, readjusting to a new space, without jobs, without community, without connection. I attach so much of my identity to that of a yoga teacher, so I wonder who I am if I'm not teaching. I wonder if and when life here will feel normal. I panic when I hear the voice in the back of my head questioning whether or not we've made the best decision. Whether this will ever feel like home.
Then I find a yoga class and even though the teacher is a stranger and the studio is new and I'm in a different city in a different region of the country, I feel my breath and almost instantly I'm brought back home again. What a gift this practice is. That no matter where I am or what I'm doing I can bring myself back. I find more often than not my intention for class is "to come back home to myself". Rumi says "When you feel a peaceful that's when you are near truth". And I think that's beautiful.
One of the last things I made before the we packed up the kitchen were these quesadillas. They are filled with more vegetables than the ones you ate as a kid. And don't worry, asparagus and blueberries may sound like a completely odd pairing but it totally works. I wish I could take all the credit but it's totally a recreation of a quesadilla I had in a restaurant recently. These quesadillas are good, in a funky, super interesting, fresh summery kind of way.
Shaved Asparagus & Roasted Blueberry Quesadillas with Herbed Yogurt
Makes two quesadillas
for the yogurt:
2/3 cup greek yogurt (I use Fage 2%)
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
1 heaping tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
2 small garlic cloves, minced
pinch of salt
2/3 cup fresh blueberries
1 pound asparagus
4 spring onions
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
large pinch of salt
fresh ground pepper
2/3 cup grated extra sharp cheddar
1/2 cup crumbed goat cheese
Preheat the oven (or toaster oven) to 425 degrees. Line a small baking sheet with parchment. Combine all the yogurt ingredients in a small prep bowl, stir, cover and refrigerate while you prepare the other ingredients.
Cook blueberries on baking sheet for about 5 minutes until some are just beginning to burst. Set aside to cool. Using a vegetable peeler, Y-shaped ones work best, shave the asparagus. Don't worry about making the shavings perfect, they can be different shapes and thicknesses. Toss the shaved aparagus in a bowl with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Dice the green onions, set aside about 1/4 cup for topping, then toss the rest in with the asparagus and combine. Heat a fry pan over high heat. Cook the asparagus for about five minutes until slightly browned. Set aside.
Warm two tortillas at a time in a fry pan. Top one tortilla with half the cheddar and goat cheese. Top the cheese with half the asparagus. To the asparagus with half the blueberries. Then top with the second tortilla. Cook on medium until slightly crispy. To flip, don't risk disaster by transfering quesadilla to a plate. Top with another plate and invert. Finish cooking both sides until crispy and slightly browned. Repeat. To serve, top quesadillas with yogurt, and green onions.