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!

Totally Squashing It

In the past few weeks, I’ve wrapped up my final assignments (and even a few Christmas gifts), and proceded to run around the city to say a quick chau to friends in Boston. Goodbyes always feel temporary—see you later, nos vemos— although I don’t know exactly when I’ll be back in town—or living anywhere else in proximity to a Justin Bieber mural—again.

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Over the past four months, the enormous kitchen in my rental opened up all kinds of late-night meal opportunities. I may have left some brown rice, hot sauce, and hemp seeds behind in the refrigerator, but I pray that someone can put them to use. Now at my parents’ house, I’m reminded that there’s something so comforting about cooking at home. (For one thing, I usually know where the shared baking sheet and mixing bowl are hiding.)

Back in Baltimore as of 18 hours ago, I’ve started to unpack and avoid planning what will be “the rest of my life.” But please, one thing at a time. First, we have all those holiday thoughts on the mind: hoping family members aren’t totally bored with the gifts I picked out, finding a decent outfit to wear, and trying to remember to eat greens amidst all of the dessert spreads.

In Baltimore for Thanksgiving last month, we whipped up some roasted carrots, brussels sprouts, vegan cornbread stuffing, and this butternut squash bake, which I wouldn’t mind making again for another holiday season.

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The recipe is originally from Minimalist Baker, intended for delicata squash, with its festive, striped outer skin. But when you’re last-minute like my family, we’ll take whichever squash is left in the grocery store the morning before dinner is supposed to be served.

The creamy baked butternut squash and juicy pomegranate seeds counter a tart lemony tahini drizzle and dry, roasted hazelnuts. The parsley’s just there for some subtle color, you know? I’m afraid it received mediocre reviews from the 12-year-old present, who chewed cautiously before spitting it back out on her plate (tahini isn’t for everyone). But I still was happy to eat cold leftovers the next day. Serve it room-temperature, or quickly throw the toppings all around the moment you pop it out of the oven, and serve ASAP so your guests have a chance to burn their mouths.

Sure, we all like our squash/potatoes/root vegetables topped with marshmallows, soaked in brown sugar, or roasted in a honey glaze. But if you try something different—a little more tart, with a nutty crunch—you might surprise yourself.

Lemon-Tahini Squash Bake

What you need:

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 Tbsp tahini
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp water
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
  • ¼ cup dry roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Peel and slice squash into ½ inch rounds, and then cut in half (into semi-circles). Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then arrange in rows in a 9 inch x 11 inch baking dish. Bake for 35 minutes, or until softened and tender. (Just grab one with a fork and taste it first!)
  3. In a measuring cup, whisk together the dressing ingredients (tahini, lemon juice, maple syrup, and water). If the dressing is too thick for a light drizzle, add another teaspoon of water.
  4. Drizzle the dressing across the rows of baked butternut squash—this is the delicious shit that sticks everything together. Then sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, hazelnuts, and parsley.
  5. Then take a look at your vibrant work of art. You’re a wondrous holiday chef, working miracles. And you peeled a butternut squash on your own, likely using an enormous, sharp knife. Cheers! Go celebrate something.