29 May 2008

Taco Salad

Intrigued by its dimpled, dark shell and promise of a yellow-green rainbow of silken flesh, I swooped the avocado from its perch on my pantry shelf and made passionate dinner.

The avocado, technically a berry of a flowering tree, was my muse. This seduction is not surprising, given what I just read from Wikipedia:

The word "avocado" comes from the Nahuatl word ahuakatl (testicle, a reference to the shape of the fruit). Historically avocados had a long-standing stigma as a sexual stimulant and were not purchased or consumed by any person wishing to preserve a chaste image. Avocados were known by the Aztecs as "the fertility fruit".

The dish I prepared, a taco salad, is one that appears regularly at my dinner table. The ingredients are staples in my fridge/pantry and the recipe is adaptable to both an ample or a tight budget, depending on your choice to use fresh produce versus canned goods. I find it fresh and satisfying:

Taco Salad

Steak or Chicken (skirt steak or chicken breasts is what I've used)
Olive oil
Meat seasonings with Mexican influence (see below)
Lime juice

Lettuce (I used spinach, but I like it with a crisp lettuce such as romaine)
Black beans
Yellow corn
Hot sauce

Last night I prepared my steak for grilling by rubbing it with olive oil, soy sauce, garlic powder, cayenne, cumin and oregano. After cooking my meat (grilling, searing or baking), I cut the steak into bite-sized pieces after it had rested, recollecting its juices. I then sprinkled the meat with lime juice.

To assemble the salad, I began by building a foundation of lettuce on my plate, topping it with black beans, corn, steak, chopped tomato and avocado in quantities to my liking. Instead of salad dressing, I topped the lovely pile with ample globs of hot sauce (though I like the idea of a well-paired vinaigrette).

Swallowing the last savory bite of this festive mess of a meal, I exhaled a sigh of satisfaction. My world was momentarily quieted and I felt full. Ahhh, avocado.

18 May 2008

Homemade Hummus

Hummus, the creamy leguminous dip featuring pureed chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans or, in my family, tushie beans) and tahini (sesame seed paste), has become a staple in many American's diets.  Calling this undoubtedly Middle Eastern specialty an "American food" probably breaks a million codes of political correctness and smacks of cultural appropriation, but I'm gonna do it anyway.  No longer confined to natural food markets, multiple brands of hummus (many flavored creatively with olives, roasted peppers and garlic) can be found in supermarkets everywhere, and hummus sandwiches are featured on most any deli menu...and it's no wonder! Hummus is delish, and good for you too. Good for you, that is, if it's not chock full of additives, gobs of salt and saturated fats, which unfortunately is the case with many of these pre-packaged supermarket hummus options. The good news is that if you have a food processor in your kitchen, healthful and tasty hummus is super easy to make at home (and more affordable too).  I just whipped up a batch this afternoon after coming across this great recipe in Cooks Illustrated magazine--a recipe worth making again and again and customizing with your favorite additions.  I doubled the recipe to make a big batch and it worked out just fine. Next time around I think I'll play around with some different flavors and garnishes...pinenuts perhaps, or maybe roasted peppers.  And a few tips for any of you who might be uninitiated hummus-eaters out there:  hummus is a great appetizer/lunch served with pita bread, pita chips (or pretty much any kind of cracker), and crispy raw veggies.  It's also a great sandwich filling layered with cheese, roasted eggplant, sprouts or other veggies, or served as part of a Middle Eastern meal with baba ganush, tabbuli, dolmas, etc.  The options are many!

Best Hummus

3 tablespoons lemon juice (1-2 lemons)
1/4 cup water
6 tablespoons tahini, stirred well
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle on top
1 14 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch cayenne
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro or parsley for garnish

1. Combine lemon juice and water in small bowl or measuring cup. Whisk tahini and oil in another small bowl. Set aside a few tablespoons of whole chickpeas for garnish
2. Process chickpeas, garlic, salt, cumin, and cayenne in food processor until almost fully ground, about 15 seconds. Scrape down bowl with a spatula.  While machine is running, add lemon juice mixture in a steady stream through the feeding tube. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl and process for about another minute.  Again, with machine running, add the tahini mixture in a steady stream through the tube, continuing to process until smooth and creamy, about 15 seconds. You may have to stop to scrape down the bowl again. 
3. Transfer hummus to serving bowl or storage container and garnish with reserved chickpeas, chopped herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil. If serving rather than storing, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for about 1/2 hour to let flavors meld. Will last about 5 or so days in the fridge (maybe more). 

05 May 2008

Classic Cornbread

2 c. yellow cornmeal
1 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
4 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
2 eggs, well beaten
1 stick butter, melted and cooled

Pre-heat oven to 400ยบ.
Melt butter and let it cool.
Mix together all ingredients.  (Don't over stir)
Pour into a greased and floured loaf or brownie pan.
Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown & toothpick comes out clean.
Serve with honey butter.

* Add any other goodies you like in your cornbread: chipotle peppers, jalapeno jack cheese, or dried cranberries and pecans.