Monthly Archives: August 2014

South by Southwest

swbooksThere is a certain amount of regional cooking in this country, but for the most part there is not that much difference, region to region. The one stand-out cuisine is that of the Southwest, and in the Southwest I include much of Texas and exclude the populated parts of southern California. Not only is this food distinctive, but it is great food; thus we have debased versions in Taco Bells and other such establishments from California to the New York island. In this post we consider two cookbooks focussing on the food of the American Southwest, neither very recent: one is almost 50 years old, the other 30. The older cookbook is dated; today more ingredients are available almost everywhere, and I think we are all slightly better cooks than in 1968. We also expect more than just recipe after recipe from our cookbooks. However the more recent cookbook I found to be just as magical as I did back in the days when good hardcover cookbooks cost $17.95.

Untitled 3Ronald Johnson’s The Aficionado’s Southwestern Cooking is a book I sort of inherited; it has been on my shelf for a long time, but only now have I cooked anything from it. This is a slim book; checking Amazon, I see that there is an expanded paperback version with more than twice the number of pages and a new subtitle: New and Old. The edition that I have, published in 1968, shows its age: few cookbook authors today would have MSG as a standard ingredient. There are no recipe introductions, now almost a requirement for any cookbook. I think, though, that the recipes do represent Southwestern cooking, circa 1968, and there is a lot here that looks interesting and tasty. Who knows: maybe every New Mexico kitchen in the 60s had a shaker of MSG.

fishswI am still buying tilapia, despite most tilapia being farmed by prison labor; I keep thinking that I should quit using it, but tilapia is such an inoffensive easy fish. So I used tilapia in the recipe “Fish Fillets with Chile and Wine” (page 15). The fish is lightly pan fried, then covered with sauce and popped in the oven. As advertised, the sauce has chili powder and red wine, but also tomatoes, capers, and olives. The sauce was perfect with the bland fish, so if one is going to eat tilapia, this is a great way to do so. Obviously, though, other fish could be used. [Go to the recipe.]

chilqRecipes for chilaquiles attract me, but then usually disappoint me. Ronald’s recipe (page 39) was better than most, but still, ultimately, a disappointment. I substituted fake meat for the chorizo in the recipe, and I will admit that the fake meat itself might have been the biggest problem. Despite my issues with this dish, at least one of our guests, Evan C, expressed his approval.

I find myself liking more and more Southwestern-Mexican type green sauces, so I decided to try Ronald’s “Green Chile Sauce—Cold” (page 98). This sauce is made by blending together tomatoes, scallions, garlic, parsley, jalapeños, coriander, and roasted green chiles; for these I used poblano chiles. A sauce like this cannot fail to be good, although I must admit that this was not the best sauce of its type that I have made. I originally intended using it in some sort of egg dish, but I ended up using it with the hominy, below.

avsoufIt seems that avocados should have uses other than as a garnish or salad ingredient or mashed up into guacamole, but so far all my efforts to do something else with avocados have not exactly been failures, but not resounding successes either. An avocado tart was okay, but nothing I wanted to make again; avocado soup was like a very thin guacamole with minimal avocado flavor. Still, I have not given up, so the the recipe “Avocado Soufflé” (page 113) beckoned. This recipe is also on the back of the paper jacket of the book, so clearly someone else also thought this recipe was attractive. The soufflé was a standard sweet soufflé with a light green color; four of us ate it all up in one sitting with no problem. And yet… . For an avocado and soufflé combination, I think that I would have way preferred a chocolate soufflé after eating a salad with lots of avocado in it.

superbaddessert“Mango Floating Island” (page 108) is not what I usually think of as floating island. According to Wikipedia, floating island is a dessert consisting of poached meringues on a crème anglaise. Ronald makes his floating island by pouring a custard sauce over mangoes, then topping with whipped cream. The first problem I had was that I could not find mangoes, but Whole Foods had apricots in their produce section, so I thought that apricots might be a good substitution. This was a mistake; the problem is that the fresh apricots that end up in Michigan are tasteless. I am willing to believe that amazing apricots exist, but I doubt that they exist in this state. So I threw in some cherries for taste. The next problem was the custard sauce. I was not that careful with mine, and it curdled some. Although I strained the custard, it was still still somewhat grainy. But I also don’t think the custard recipe was that good; Ronald might have had a better sauce with egg yolks, not whole eggs, and he really could have used a little more sugar. The end product was not merely a forgettable dessert; it came too near to the category of bad desserts.

Untitled 4The Feast of Santa Fe: Cooking of the American Southwest, by Huntley Dent, is a beautiful cookbook, beginning with the vivid blue color accenting the cover (unfortunately, not on the paperback edition). When I first acquired this book, I was reading Louise Erdrich’s The Beet Queen; looking at the blue on the covers of these two great books at night before I went to sleep made me feel so rich. Huntley’s book is the opposite of Ronald’s book; there are lots of words well put together; we learn just what the different foods mean to the cooks of Santa Fe. Huntley is delightfully opinated; I thought of Ronald’s avocado soufflé when I read in the section on avocados that recipes for avocado mousse, avocado ice cream, and the like “definitely do not appear in this cookbook.” There is something for everyone (even Ronald Johnson, just not avocado soufflé) in this cookbook. Thirty years ago I found a number of good meat recipes; I particularly liked the “Spiced Ground Beef with Raisins and Almonds–Picadillo” (page 101). But there is still plenty for the vegetarian; this traditional food is, after all, the food of people who must carefully conserve their resources, and so not kill a sheep every day for a meat feast.

orangefennelIt’s not winter, but that did not stop me from putting “Winter Salad of Jícama and Oranges” (page 175) on the table. What did stop me, though, was that Whole Foods Market had no jicamas. Undaunted, I tried to think of a jicama replacement; my first idea was celery, but then I decided to try fennel, and I think this worked out very well, probably even better than jicama. The salad is simple: just jicama (or fennel), sectioned oranges, scallions, and cilantro, with a simple dressing. This salad was very refreshing, just what a salad should be.

radishsaladqq“Radish, Onion, and Green Chili Salad” (page 176) is indeed a salad when first made: radishes, scallions, red onion, and bell pepper are mixed with salt and vinegar; jicama is an optional ingredient. This makes a tart and crunchy salad when fresh. But let this salad sit for even a few hours and it begins morphing into a pickle; still tart and crunchy but with an entirely different character. I think this tastes better as a pickle, but is much prettier as a salad.

cheesesoupCheese soup has always impressed me as decadent, so it was with a thrill of guilty pleasure that I made “Cheddar Soup with Green Chilies” (page 190). Huntley describes this as “a chile con queso in soup form,” which quite accurately sums up this soup. It’s delicious, and how could it be otherwise, with butter and tomatoes, chilies and cream, cheddar and fake chicken broth? It’s blended together, so even picky eaters such as Henry have no excuse not to like this soup.

enchswI could not cook from this book without exploring “Traditional Specialties,” and so I decided to make “Red Chili Enchiladas” (page 216). Sometimes when I have made enchiladas. I have only dipped the tortillas in the sauce, but this time I followed Huntley’s directions. I dipped corn tortillas first in hot oil, then in “Adaptable Red Chili Sauce with Tomatoes” (page 79). Next I rolled up onions and cheese in each tortilla, put them in a baking dish, and topped with the leftover sauce and more cheese. These were certainly good; I think that the taste is worth the mess and calories of dipping first in oil.

hominyswHominy, corn treated with lime, is a food much under-appreciated in many places. When coarsely ground, we get hominy grits. A finer grind gives the masa used to make corn tortillas and other corn doughs. Unground, we get hominy itself, which can either be purchased dried or cooked and canned. When I am in cholent making mode, I often like to throw a handful of hominy into the cholent pot. Huntley uses canned hominy in his “Creamed Hominy with Cheese and Green Chili” (page 206); I had some dried hominy so just cooked that. I combined the cooked hominy with the green chili sauce from The Aficionado’s Southwestern Cooking, cream, butter, and cheese. This made a very enjoyable dish, and one different from what usually appears on my table.

Ipotsw2t’s hard to go wrong with fried potatoes (unless you are one of those strange and unusual people like Henry who actually don’t like potatoes); this is probably why French fries are so popular: grease, starch, and salt are the best! At home, it is lots easier to pan fry cubes of potatoes, often precooked, than to deep fry potato sticks; you can still get the same grease, salt, and starch combo. I have several Indian inspired fried potato dishes in the repertoire; Huntley offers a Santa Fe fried potato dish: “Fried Potatoes with Green Chili” (page 206). This is a simple dish with onions, pre-cooked potatoes, and canned green chilies; I omitted the salt pork, but the potatoes were still good.

ricesfThe recipe for “Spanish Rice” (page 305) is not the tomato based concoction that most of us are used to; rather, this is merely rice cooked in broth, after first browning in oil with a little onion and garlic. Huntley does offer some variations, some with tomatoes, but I followed his basic recipe. I used “Better than Bullion” vegetarian paste, and ended up with a simple but savory rice side dish.

chickpeasswCanned beans are easy to use, and don’t taste that bad, but I have found that cooking one’s own dried beans is not that much work and usually leads to superior results. But there are a few dishes for which I don’t mind canned beans (but maybe just out of habit); one such dish is “Pureed Chick-Peas” (page 303), the baked variation. This dish ends up tasting way better than, by all rights, it should, for not only do we use canned chickpeas, but canned green chilies. I’m a little embarrassed to produce really good food from cans. The chickpeas and green chilies are combined with onion, garlic, oregano, cumin, and cream, and topped with cheese, then baked in the onion. Not too mild, not too spicy, creamy with a little bit of texture: these are some of the reasons I like this dish so much. [Go to the recipe.]

orangecakeYears ago, before Danny became a salaryman, he experimented with cooking. One of his best recipes was from The Feast of Santa Fe: “Boiled Lemon Cake” (page 327); he made the orange variation, as did I when I made this this cake. This is a very eggy cake, with only a small amount of flour; it uses all the peel from one orange, which is ground up in the food processor. The cake you end up with is moist and perfect with whipped cream. Danny indeed has an eye for good recipes; maybe he will start cooking again in years to come!

pinesw2“Piñon Tiles” (page 351) are tuile type cookies, thin cookies that are draped over a rolling pin or broomstick when warm and soft in order to form “tile” shaped cookies; curved red tiles being the type used in Spain or Mexico (or so Huntley tells us). Although Huntley gives us the directions for forming the curved tile shapes, he also excuses us from doing so, as in Santa Fe we find flat adobe roofs, not curled tiles. My first attempts at curved tiles were not that successful, so I just went for the flat tiles. The cookies were acceptable, but not that amazing in taste.

flansantafeAlan broke the flan barrier in our house; after his first delicious flan, I have tried a number of other flan recipes. Huntley’s “White Cocoa Flan” (page 356) gets its chocolate flavor from white crème de cacao (although I used dark crème de cacao, all I had in my cabinet). A flan with this mild chocolate flavor accented with a hint of cinnamon was a good idea, but I have come to appreciate the smoothness of flans made primarily with egg yolks; Huntley uses four eggs and two yolks. So this was a good flan, but there was room for improvement.


Fish Fillets in Tomato Chili Sauce

Adapted from Ronald Johnson, The Aficionado’s Southwestern Cooking

Olive oil
1½ pounds mild white fish fillets (e.g., tilapia)
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 14-ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes
1 cup red wine
½ teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons minced parsley
12 green olives, pitted and chopped
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
Sriracha or other hot sauce (optional)

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet, and cook the fish on both sides. Remove from the pan. Using more olive oil if necessary, add the garlic, cumin, and chili powder to the skillet, stirring constantly. Add the tomatoes, wine, oregano, olives, parsley, and capers. Simmer for 10 or 15 minutes. Add salt and hot sauce to taste.

Layer the fish and tomato sauce in baking dish, ending with the tomato sauce. The dish can be refrigerated at this point, or cooked right away. When ready to cook, put the dish in a preheated 350º oven until hot and bubbly.


Southwest Chickpeas

Adapted from Huntley Dent, The Feast of Santa Fe

Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon pepper
2 14-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 3-ounce can chopped green chilies
¼ cup cream
4 ounces Monterey jack cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 300º.

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet. Cook the onion until it softens. Add the garlic, oregano, cumin, pepper, and salt to taste (start with maybe half a teaspoon) and cook a few more minutes. Pulse the chickpeas in a food processor; with no food processor, mash with a potato masher. You may pulse the chickpeas with the onions if you want; I usually do this because I don’t want very big chunks of onion in the finished dish. Be sure to leave some texture, though. Add the chickpeas and green chilies to the onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes. Stir in the cream. Spread the chickpeas in a shallow baking dish and top with the cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 20 minutes.

More from Deborah Madison

dmbooksWe have recently had two not completely satisfactory weeks at Cookbook Cornucopia. Wee Wee Food just wasn’t that good, and for Louisville: Then and Now we ended up with good food, but it required some effort to dig out acceptable vegetarian recipes from two very meaty cookbooks. Thus, when thinking of what to cook this week, I wanted reliably good vegetarian recipes. And so I ended up grabbing three of Deborah Madison’s cookbooks. Although I have found Deborah’s recipes rarely to be stunning, they are always good, usually not too complicated, and indubitably healthy.

tofuDeborah’s tofu book, This Can’t Be Tofu!: 75 Recipes to Cook Something You Never Thought You Would–and Love Every Bite is a thin paperback. It is not a strictly vegetarian cookbook, there being some fish recipes, but no true meat recipes. It seems that Deborah expands her definition of tofu to include soy milk, for she has several recipes for smoothies using only soy milk. I ended up picking only salad recipes from this book. Some of the hot dishes looked tempting, but neither of the other two books from which I was cooking had much in the way of salads.

eggtofuUsing crumbled tofu instead of chopped hard boiled eggs to make a fake egg salad is not a new idea. If you are truly avoiding eggs, you also have to use a fake mayonnaise. Deborah is not avoiding eggs, so she combines eggs and tofu and uses real mayonnaise in her “Tofu Salad Sandwich Filling” (page 42). This was a tasty little salad with a nice texture, but I could not keep from wondering what the purpose of the tofu was. More eggs instead of tofu would have definitely been tastier, and maybe even healthier and cheaper.

spintof“Spinach and Sesame Tofu Salad with Pickled Ginger” (page 34) is made up of cooked spinach in a powerful dressing topped with silken tofu and sesame seeds. Deborah uses mustard in her dressing, but I had some powdered wasabi and so I used that instead. I forgot to top with pickled ginger, which would have been a nice touch. But even without the pickled ginger, this was a very good salad, with excellent slippery textures from both the tofu and spinach. [Go to the recipe.]

sobatofuI have not always been satisfied with soba noodles, although I do not know if it is the type I get or the way I cook them. They usually end up too gummy, and I am not sure that I like their taste. But this did not deter me from trying “Chilled Soba with Soft Tofu and Soy-Sesame Sauce” (page 99). Happily, this dish turned out fine, and none of my soba problems materialized. I tried to avoid gumminess by rinsing the cooked noodles well, and the liquidy oily dressing probably helped matters also. As for the taste, I tried a different brand that I think was just better than the Eden soba noodles that I usually get. This dish consists of soba noodles, tofu, and scallions, in a dressing of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and ginger.

dmsupVegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen is an easy book to like, full of relatively easy and tasty, always nutritious, yet still substantial, vegetarian dishes. Deborah often gives options for the vegan, and includes wine suggestions. Here I must observe that Deborah’s wine cellar is infinitely more well-stocked than our laundry room shelf of bottles from Costco and Plum Market. Deborah’s suppers appear to be one-dish meals, with at most a simple side. There are essentially no recipes in this book for salads, soups, or desserts. Every now and then Deborah sounds a little preachy about healthy eating, but mostly she keeps this tendency under control. Deborah thankfully lacks the smarminess of certain other vegetarian cookbook authors who I will not name here. This book is a nice size, and is sensibly subdivided. My biggest complaint (a very small complaint, though) is that I wish the publishers had made more of as effort to keep each recipe to one page.

cabtempehIt is supposed to be good to eat lots of colored food, and looking at my selections from these cookbooks, I certainly have color. For a nice purple-red color, we have “Star Anise-Glazed Tempeh with Stir-Fried Peppers” (page 111). For this dish, we marinate tempeh in a soy sauce-mirin-maple syrup marinade with cinnamon and star anise. This is added to a stir-fry of red cabbage and peppers, flavored with garlic, ginger, and cilantro. With recipes like this, I find that I am actually starting to like tempeh. [Go to the recipe.]

stuffpepzBell peppers are just made to be stuffed, and “Yellow Peppers Stuffed with Quinoa, Corn, and Feta Cheese” (page 177) is an excellent recipe for stuffed peppers. The title of the recipe does not mention the spinach in the stuffing, nor does it mention the bed of wine-braised red onions on which the peppers rest. Instead of mixing the feta cheese into the stuffing, I topped half of my peppers with feta in case any dairy-avoiders would be joining us for lunch. As it was, everyone at our table ate dairy, and the feta topped peppers disappeared first. The amount of stuffing in this recipe is too generous; there was enough left over for a nice little quinoa dish for two.

vburg“Brown Rice-Mushroom ‘Burgers'” are a burger version of the cheese and nut loaf from The Greens Cookbook. Deborah claims that this burger recipe is “vastly improved over the original,” but I am not quite sure what she means by this. The new version has less in the way of nuts, cheese, and eggs, and some bread crumb filler which the original lacks. I think the original recipe tasted better; maybe it was more caloric, but then one should just eat less of it. But these burgers were still very good, about as good as a vegetarian burger can get. I served these with sriracha mayonnaise.

griceI am becoming quite fond of green rice made with poblano chiles, so I thought that I would try Deborah’s version, “Green Rice with Roasted Green Chiles and Leeks” (page 152). Although not the absolutely best green rice ever, this was still quite tasty. The green comes from the roasted poblanos, leeks, parsley, and cilantro. It’s enriched with cheese (I used feta) and sour cream, both a little unnecessary, but delicious nevertheless.

dmsoupTo do justice to the book Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen I should have stretched my recipe testing over several weeks; there is, after all, the limit to the amount of soup that two people can eat over one weekend. Thus I only tried three soups; one, a bean and tomato soup; one, a cold soup; and one, not really a soup at all. There are still a lot of soups in this book calling me to make them. The book is divided into chapters devoted to specific types of soups, and seasonal chapters. Many of the soup come with a color photograph, but there are also a number of useless pictures, such as those of kitchenware or of cute girls holding soup mugs. Still, like all of Deborah’s books, this is a reliable collection of vegetarian recipes.

chickfulSitting in my cupboard was a can of ful medames with a good hechsher. I was not sure that I was ever going to open this can until I came across Deborah’s “Spicy Chickpea and Tomato Soup” (page 66) that called for a can of chickpeas and a can of ful medames. Deborah’s recipe is for a sort of Middle Eastern type chili, with beans and tomatoes flavored with cumin, ginger, and tumeric. There are a few other vegetables: carrots, celery, and winter squash. I think that this soup would have been better with the winter squash omitted. It was still quite good though, but spicy enough that in the end I could not tell the difference between the two types of beans.

gsoupzAvocados are so good, and I try to use them in different ways, but so far nothing beats plain avocados. Deborah’s cold “Avocado Soup with Herbs, Slivered Radishes, and Pistachios” (page 138) was a very good soup, but I think it would have been better topped with more avocados instead of radishes. This soup is a blend of avocado, cucumber, herbs, buttermilk, and yogurt. It is thick and rich and green. Deborah says her recipe serves four or more people; I served eight with soup left over. Everyone just had a small custard cup of soup, for I myself dislike having a huge bowl of cold soup set down in front of me. [Go to the recipe.]

vegchowder“Wild Rice Chowder” (page 115) ended up being so thick that I served it as a vegetable casserole, not a soup. This dish consists of a lot of fairly bland vegetables and wild rice in a cream sauce. It would make a better winter than summer dish: hot, starchy, creamy, and bland is what one craves on a snowy day, not a muggy summer day.  This was still good food, although I kept trying to think of ways to pep it up while still staying true to its essential nature.


Spinach and Tofu Salad

Adapted from Deborah Madison, This Can’t Be Tofu!

1 pound spinach, cleaned if necessary, thick stems removed
1 box firm silken tofu, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

2 teaspoons wasabi powder
4 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ inch piece of ginger, minced

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spinach and cook just until the spinach is wilted. Drain the spinach, pouring some of the spinach water over the cubed tofu. Drain the tofu after a few minutes. Squeeze as much water as possible out of the spinach, then chop up the spinach.

Toast the sesame seeds, either in a skillet on a burner or in the oven.

Combine the dressing ingredients. Mix with the spinach. Top with the tofu and sesame seeds and gently combine.


Tempeh and Red Cabbage

Adapted from Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen

¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1 package tempeh, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece ginger, minced
1 bunch scallions, sliced
4 cups shredded red cabbage
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
½ cup toasted cashews

Bring the soy sauce, mirin, sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, and star anise to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the tempeh. Let the tempeh marinate for five minutes, then remove from the marinade, but reserve the marinade.

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Cook the tempeh on both sides, then remove and wipe out the skillet. Heat some more oil in the skillet. Add the garlic, ginger, and scallions, and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Add the cabbage and peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are limp. Add the marinade, the cilantro, and the tempeh. Make sure everything is hot, then serve, topped with the cashews. I served these with black rice ramen noodles.


Cold Avocado Soup

Adapted from Deborah Madison, Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen

2 cups buttermilk
1 cup yogurt
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
¾ large seedless cucumber, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 scallions
½ jalapeño pepper
Zest and juice of 1 lime
½ teaspoon agave syrup

Put everything in a blender and blend until smooth. You may have to do this in several batches. Use your own judgment on how much of the herbs to use; Deborah specifies one tablespoon each, but I used more, at least of the dill and chives.  Top the soup servings with chopped radish, more avocado, chopped pistachios, or more herbs.