Panzanella a la mexicana

Panzanella is a traditional Italian bread salad. Not bread pudding. Not breaded chicken. Bread salad. No lettuce needed. Just tomatoes and cucumbers, and some creativity.

A la mexicana typically means one combination: tomato, white onion, and green pepper– the colors of the Mexican flag. As it turns out, this combo works for italia too. But we’re going to swap the white onion for red in this case. Because hello, living abroad is confusing sometimes and we all need an excuse to cry. Chop that lil’ guy up.

Maybe you’re beginning to notice: bread salad is hardly salad, and this recipe definitely doesn’t categorize as cooking. We’re chopping vegetables and heating bread in a pan since it won’t fit in the toaster. We’re peeling and tossing, toasting and slicing. Why make it complicated?

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Since most teachers here work a spaced-out 11-hour day (my classes stretch from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. but I’m not complaining I swear..?), meals need to be easy and fresh. We’re in Mexico and I refuse to survive off of convenience store snacks alone if I don’t have to.

Salads are the quickest: simple food prep with no time waiting for the oven to preheat. This salad is fresh and speaks for itself: no heavy sauces, seasonings, or cheesy toppings involved. Did I also mention I’m getting incredibly lazy? It was my turn to clean the apartment weeks ago and I still haven’t gotten around to it. Hora latina, they say.

Savor your time, eat some oily bread in a bowl, and call it a Thursday. It’s about time for a carb-induced siesta. We’ll talk later.

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Panzanella a la Mexicana

What you’ll need:

  • 3 tortas (or other baguette-like white bread)
  • 5 roma tomatoes, diced in large chucks
  • 1/2 cucumber, halved and chopped
  • a handful of chiles, thinly sliced (because, Mexico)
  • a handful of cilantro, or whatever hasn’t wilted too much from last week
  • juice of 3 limes
  • olive oil (in copious amounts)
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

Toast the tortas in whatever way possible. Maybe you’re living the high life with a toaster oven on your counter and a functioning oven below your stove. Good for you. Otherwise, light a match.

As the tortas toast, toss all chopped tomatoes, cucumber, chiles, and cilantro in a big salad bowl. Slice up the toasted bread into one-inch cubes. Add the bread to the bowl, drizzle drench it all with olive oil and fresh lime juice, give it a toss, and season generously with salt and pepper. Voilà. Done. The crispy bread turns soft, oily, and citrusy. Not a bad combination.

This certainly doesn’t keep until the next day. So get down with your pals and eat it all in one sitting. Si. Se. Puede. Buen provecho!

Jamaican Christmas Chili

Disclosure: This recipe has nothing to do with Christmas, but people love Christmas shit in December.

This chili is spicy and hearty (i.e. filling and thick). There are also a lot of beans involved (a prerequisite for chili recipe applicants). The quinoa gives it some extra nutty body. You’ll want to have additional vegetable broth on hand in case it’s too thick for your liking. Or just bean up and own it. It’s spicy, soul-warming, and comes in a festive holiday red. And it only requires one pot and a tiny bit of prep work. Get to it!

Jamaican Christmas Chili with Quinoa

Serves 6

Original recipe from Food 52 Vegan

What you need:

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, chopped (Don’t seed that guy! We want it spicy.)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/4 cups quinoa, rinsed (red or white or whatever color you’re feeling)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cups cooked kidney beans
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 3 cups vegetable broth

Instructions:

In a large pot over medium heat, warm up that coconut oil. Add the onion and peppers. Sauté for about ten minutes. Then add the garlic and sauté for a hot second.

Stir in the rinsed quinoa, kidney beans, salt, chili powder, cinnamon, thyme, nutmeg, and allspice (all the spices). Start adding 2 1/2 cups of vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Then let it simmer and add more broth if it’s too thick for you. Let cook for about 30 minutes, until the quinoa starts to sprout. (The little guys grow up so fast.)

Season that pot of hotness a bit more until you’re totally cool with the taste. Put some fancy garnish on it like chives or cilantro. Bam. Now grab a huge spoon and curl up on the sofa with a warm bowl because nothing says cozy like a big-ass bowl of chili.

Jerk-Spiced Tempeh

Tofu gets old sometimes. Your friends are still making Tofurky jokes. I get it. Mix up that soy routine with tempeh. It’s firmer in texture, crisps up more easily than tofu, and has a nuttier flavor. You can find it in most grocery stores, packaged and stashed in the refrigerated section right beside the tofu.

Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. If you think this sounds gross, just remember that beer is fermented grains, wine is fermented grapes, and coffee is literally bean water. And beer and wine and coffee are all delicious, so tempeh can be too. Give it a chance!

The allspice and thyme in this recipe really makes it feel like Christmas in your mouth. I would call the spice level “severely mild.” It’s spiced, but not spicy. So even grandma will be able to handle this one.

 

Jerk-Spiced Tempeh

Serves 2 as a meal or 4 as a side-dish

Original recipe from Hot Vegan

What you need:

  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 (8-ounce) package tempeh, cut into cubes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Instructions:

Combine the spices in a small bowl and set aside.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the tempeh cubes. Reduce heat and let simmer for 30 minutes. Then drain the tempeh and dry with a paper towel.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and let cook for 1 minute. Then add the tempeh and cook for 10 minutes or until browned on all sides. Sprinkle the spice mixture over the tempeh and toss for about 30 seconds. Serve hot with some other veggies and call this meal BALANCED.

 

A Kitchen Christening: Nutty Carrot-Chili Soup

I imagine that when people first move into a newly purchased house, they order delivery pizza and eat grocery store sushi with their hands while sitting on plastic-wrapped sofas. I suppose that once they uncover a great-grandmother’s casserole dish that they had thought might’ve gone missing and the silverware that was packed at the last minute, haphazardly tossed into a shoebox, that they finally face the kitchen of their dreams. The only uncertainty left is what to cook first.

When a kitchen is new to a cook, the first meal is messy. Upon settling into a old family house in Boston as the newest member added to upwards of six roommates, I select my first recipe to tackle: a spicy peanut carrot soup, requiring only a handful of ingredients. Carrots, garlic, and one large sweet onion top my list for the Copley Square farmer’s market downtown. I’m ready to get chopping, boiling, simmering, and blending. It’s also 80 degrees and humid as hell. Logic would’ve pointed toward a salad, but soup it is.

Through the side door enter a few roommates: a lab technician, a doctor, and a film student. We meet for the first time, but don’t shake hands because mine are oily with onion. They’ll recline outside with beers while I’m determined to add the correct eight fillings of ¼-cup containers of vegetable broth to the pot. (Any larger measuring cups were nowhere to be found.)

Upon move-in, the house is equal parts mine, free to access. But what has until now been someone else’s kitchen feels very much so like that. A burner is left on Low. Is someone coming back to this? After a few minutes, I switch it off. Left-behind soap suds take the cutting board for a slide. I’m not so sure if the entire spice cabinet is up for grabs, but I’ll help myself to some black pepper. Rufus the cat isn’t invested in chopped vegetable droppings—he’s lived here longer than anyone, and lacks any expression of amusement—but he’ll stand at bay on the dining room table and watch.

I try my best to clean up as I go, leaving an extra wooden spoon and knife in the sink. I make a mental promise to clean them later. In a shared living space, effort is adamant. But no one moves in without an intentional mistake tucked into their apron pocket.

Earlier the same morning, I opened the microwave to make oatmeal. A platter of four marinated and grilled chicken breasts—likely from the night before—sat perched inside, awaiting discovery. I removed the dish, but the microwave still smelled distinctly of chicken. Not one for poultry-flavored oats, I relegated the platter back inside, shut the door, and silently left it for someone else to sort out.

As it turns out, labeling the soup as vegan isn’t exactly a selling point for a crowd with pork destined for the grill and a ginger-garlic sauce simmering on the stove. Flavors are already bursting in this kitchen, as are the positive vibes. But someone’s going to have to deal with the clogged sink, and Rufus certainly isn’t offering a hand.

Here’s the rich, creamy, and savory soup with a kick:

Peanutty Carrot-Chili Soup

Nutty Carrot-Chili Soup (vegan)

Recipe adapted from Minimalist Baker

What you need:

  • 1 heaping Tbsp coconut oil
  • half of a large sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 pound carrots, or about 6-8 medium-large carrots
  • a pinch each of salt and pepper
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 ¾ cups water
  • ½ cup creamy salted natural peanut butter
  • 3 tsp chili garlic sauce
  • My favorite toppings, per bowl: ½ tsp chia seeds, 2 Tbsp roughly chopped pistachios, and a light sprinkle of toasted pumpkin seeds to dress things up

Instructions:

At the stove: Add the coconut oil to a pot. Chop the half of an onion, garlic, and carrots, and toss them in, too. Heat over medium-high heat, and allow to cook down for 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, vegetable stock, and water. Give the pot a stir, bring it to a boil for a few minutes, and then allow it to simmer for about 20 minutes, until the carrots are soft.

In the food processor: Pour the chunky soup mixture into a food processor. Pulse on low for up to a minute. Add the peanut butter, whirl for another minute, and then add the chili garlic sauce. Give it another spin on low speed, or pulse until it appears combined and maintains a consistent bold-orange color. Give it a taste, and adjust your peanut butter- chili sauce ratio as desired. A little extra spice never hurt anyone in the long run, I like to think.

To serve: Top it off however you like! Dana offered great flavor combos in the original recipe, like coconut milk and fresh basil for a cooling affect or agave for a sweet touch. My favorite toppings add a bit of a crunch- they’re listed above with the ingredients. Eat how you like!