Calabacitas (Spicy Squash Casserole)

???????????????????????????????I make this every summer when squash and corn ripen. My sister Leanna grows beautiful squash in her sun soaked Southern California garden. We made calabacitas (call-ah-ba-SEE-tas) with it when she visited me.

I discovered the recipe in the children’s book Carlos and the Squash Plant / Carlos y la planta de calabaza by Jan Romero Stevens. It’s a tale of a boy who won’t wash his ears until a squash plant grows out of his ears. His mom serves him calabacitas when he finally washes the plant out.

I put my own touch on her recipe, by substituting olive oil for margarine, adding oregano, red bell pepper and tomato for color. Our friends Victor and Mary Lau Valle, who are master chefs,  brought us homegrown squash and oregano and taught me Victor’s mother’s version, using the Mexican cheeses asadero and cotija. (Victor and Mary are the authors of Recipe of Memory:Five Generations of Mexican Cuisine)

asadero cheeseAsadero is a Mexican mozzarella and melts wonderfully. Although it is a low-fat cheese, it has a wonderful buttery taste not usually associated with mozzarella. The cotija we used was a powdery cheese in a bag, (not the kind that comes in a brick.) It made a nice crunchy crust on the casserole when we broiled it.

???????????????????????????????Ingredients:

2 Anaheim peppers and 2 jalapeños (add more jalapeños for extra heat) You can substitute poblano chilies for the Anaheims for a smokier flavor

5 Tb olive oil

1 onion, diced

sea salt

About 1 tsp ea dried or 2 tsp fresh oregano

5 small to medium summer squash  (I used sunburst and zucchini)1 red bell pepper, diced

2 cobs corn. Cut the cobs in 2 crosswise to get a flat surface, then strip the corn from the cob. I sauté the uncooked corn. Sometimes I  use cooked corn and skip the sauté step.

3/4 cup of chicken broth. I use Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup You can make this vegetarian by substituting vegetable broth.

3 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1 1/2 cups asadero cheese, chopped. If you can’t find asadero, substitute Monterey Jack.

1/2 cup powdered cotija cheese

Place chilies directly on a gas flame until they char, then turn until all sides char. If you don’t have a gas stove, use the barbecue. And if you don’t have a barbecue, then char them on a heavy comal or frying pan placed over a burner on high. Place charred chilies in a small pot and cover until they are cool enough to handle. ???????????????????????????????The chilies will sweat and the skin will soften.

While chilies are sweating, chop the vegetables and place them in a cake pan by groups. Start off with the onion, then chop the other veggies while the onion cooks.

DSC02848Cut the squash at different angles so they’re chunky.

I use a wok to cook this in, but you can use a large heavy frying pan as well.

Sauté onions in 1 Tb olive oil over low heat until translucent, about 10 minutes.  Set aside in a large bowl.

Raise the heat and add 2 Tb olive oil to the pan. Add squash with oregano and a pinch of salt. Saute squash until it is beginning to brown on all sides. Add to the onions in the bowl.

???????????????????????????????Saute red bell pepper and corn in another Tb of oil until they begin to char. Then add to the other veggies in the bowl.

cooking tomatoesSaute the chopped tomatoes and a pinch of salt in another Tb of olive oil. Be sure to spread the tomatoes out so that they can caramelize. Add 1 tsp more fresh oregano, and cook tomatoes over medium heat until they are mostly dry, Caramelizing the tomatoes concentrates their flavor- they are so delicious!

???????????????????????????????While tomatoes are cooking, take out the chilies from the pot. Remove the stem and slice them open lengthwise. Scrape the charred parts from the skin, then scrape the seeds and soft parts from the inside. Julienne the chilies into thin strips.

Add the the chilies and the vegetables from the bowl to the tomatoes.

Pour in chicken broth and heat until boiling, stirring vegetables together.

Stir in 1 cup of the asadero or Jack cheese. Spray a flat casserole or 11′ x 8″ cake pan with non-stick spray, and pour the vegetables into it.

Sprinkle the rest of the asadero cheese on top of the calabacitas. Then sprinkle with cotija powdered cheese.

Move a rack to the upper third of the oven and turn on the broiler.

baked calabacitasPlace under the broiler for 3 -5 minutes, until the cheese turns a golden brown.

???????????????????????????????Delicious served with corn tortillas to soak up the cheesy sauce. You can mix it in with Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans)

Got leftovers? Add them to chilaquilas

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Tamales de pollo y de frijoles – Chicken and Vegetarian Bean Tamales

tamales with tomatoesMy children’s Abuelita Conchita made tamales every Christmas. After marrying her son, I do too. She visited us on our first Thanksgiving together and taught me how to make them with our leftover turkey.

I’ve been tweaking the recipe ever since.  I now make them with boneless chicken breasts with a few legs for flavor. The boneless breast eliminates the risk of choking on a rib bone, which are easy to miss while shredding the chicken. I also make vegetarian tamales using frijoles pintos, roasted chili and jack cheese.

I make my masa with olive oil, with a bit of chicken fat and bacon grease for flavor. That kind of balances the heart-healthy effects of the olive oil.

Makes filling for 120 medium tamales.

Ingredients for filling:

Dried chilies w chipotle.jpg

epazote on cooked chilies.jpg

16 cups of water (To use some of the sauce for frijoles, increase the water to 17 cups.)

2 chopped onions

8 minced garlic cloves

3 dried chipotle chilies or 2 Tb chipotle powder

2 Tb cumin powder (comino)

2 tsp cocoa powder

2 Tb dried oregano

6 cups diced Roma (plum) tomatoes or a 28 oz can (or two 14 oz cans) diced tomatoes. Fire roasted tomatoes are nice.

2 green bell peppers

2 Tb salt to taste

6 dark green poblano chilies (sometimes sold as fresh pasilla)  (add 4 more for filling for vegetarian tamales)

8 oz. dried pasilla ancho chilies

2 oz. dried morita chilies

1 bunch epazote, leaves only (pictured above)

12 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves and 6 chicken legs

Heat a large pot with the water and bring to a boil.

There’s the easy way to add chili to the broth, which my mother-in-law did, by adding chili powder to it.

3 kinds of peppersThen there’s the labor-intensive way, adding fresh poblano and dried pasilla chilies. Pasilla chilies are dark and wrinkled, like giant raisins (pasa is raisin in Spanish) They make for a more intense, earthy flavor. I also add dried morita chilies and dried chipotle chilies which look like a pieces of wood!

I use a cast iron comal (coMAL), which is a shallow frying pan to toast the chilies and peppers to intensify their flavor. I wear thin disposable latex gloves when I work with the dried chilies and poblanos. This way I emerge from the process without stained and sore hands and can rub my eyes afterwards without fear of blinding myself.

toasting pasilla chilisRinse the dried chilies and pat dry. Toast them lightly on the comal. If you don’t have a comal, use a heavy frying pan. Sometimes the pasilla will blow up like a balloon! Remove them to a plate while they are still soft.

destemmed and opened chilies after boiling.jpgWear gloves for this part: Discard the stems and some of the seed pods from the chilies and but keep some seeds for spiciness, depending on your taste. Boil the chilies for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and soak them for 20 minutes until they soften.  Remove the chilies and let them cool. Slice them in half lengthwise, scraping out extra seeds,  and add them  to the broth.

While the dried chilies are boiling and soaking, prepare the rest of the broth ingredients:

poblanos on the barbieBlister the Poblano and bell peppers on the comal or if the weather cooperates, the barbeeque. Wearing gloves, cut out the stems and scrape out the ribs and some of seeds of the poblano and discard most of the seeds. Add a few poblano seeds or ribs to make the broth spicier if you want.

Set aside four  poblanos to insert whole into vegetarian tamales. Coarsely chop up the rest and add to the water.

chiles in tomato sauce ready to blend.jpgAdd all ingredients except salt and chicken, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool for another 30 minutes.

blended sauceBlend in batches to make the chili sauce.

If making Frijoles pintos, pour out a cup of sauce into a separate pot.

For vegetarian tamales: Salt the sauce to taste. You will use it for mixing in the masa and pouring over the tamales when you eat them.

For chicken tamales: Salt the sauce and bring it to a boil. Add chicken legs, including any fat and skin to render in the sauce, and cook for 45 minutes. Cut chicken breasts into large chunks and add to the legs, cooking for 20 minutes, until done. Remove chicken from sauce with slotted spoon, reserving sauce.

Let chicken cool until you can handle it, then remove the bones from the legs and break off the cartilage at the ends of the bones to expose the marrow (I use a kitchen shears). Bring the sauce back to a boil. Return the bones to the sauce and let it cook at medium heat while you shred the chicken by hand. The marrow will add great flavor and nutrients to the sauce. Remove the bones from the sauce.

Refrigerate the sauce until the fat solidifies. Skim most of the fat from it, but keep in about 1/4 cup to add flavor to the chicken as it cooks. (If you are short on time, use a fat skimming cup.)  We will add the fat to the masa for flavor. Reserve 5 cups of sauce for the masa.

Pour 2 cups chili sauce into a skillet and heat it Add half the shredded chicken. Simmer and stir until chicken absorbs most of the sauce, but is not too dry. You should be able to see some sauce between the meat. Make the second batch, (I use 2 skillets at a time) then store in refrigerator until ready to use. It’s best to make this part the day before so that the chicken will absorb the sauce while it sits overnight. If you don’t have time, just let it cool in the freezer or fridge.

This is plenty of chicken. If you don’t want to turn it all into tamales,  they are great in tacos or enchiladas.

Vegetarian tamales: Cook  Frijoles pintos the day before. Roast 4 more fresh poblano chilies on a grill or heavy frying pan until the skin chars. Cool in a covered container to aid in peeling, then peel charred skin, discarding skin, seeds and stem, and cut into strips. You can use canned chilies to save time, but I am giving you the fresh recipe, which has a much more earthy and intense flavor. Slice jack cheese.

Preparing the tamales:

Soak an 18 oz. package of hojas (OH-hass) (dried corn husks) in warm water in a large pot (such as the tamale steamer) until soft, about 1 hour. You can even soak it overnight. I put the steamer pan on top of the hojas and weight it down with a large bowl of water. Rinse them well afterward and remove the corn silk.

Masa

Most of the Mexicans I know with swear by lard, the traditional fat used to make tamales. Lard is delicious but very heavy, so I prefer to make my masa with heart-healthy olive oil, combined with some chicken fat for flavorful chicken tamales. I use only olive oil for vegetarian tamales.

I make my masa in several batches, so I can fit it in my electric mixer. I’m giving the 1/2 measurements in parentheses.

Masa for 40 tamales (20):

7  (3 1/2) cups masa harina (corn flour) for tamales. This is coarser ground than the masa harina that is used for tortillas.
1 Tb + 1 tsp (2 tsp) salt
1 Tb (1 1/2 tsp) baking powder
2 Tb (1 Tb) paprika
6 1/2 to 7 cups (3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups) reserved warm broth. If you run out of broth, add some chili powder to warm water

beat chicken fat and olive oilFor chicken tamales: 1 1/2 cups (3/4 cup) olive oil

1/2 cup plus 2 Tb (1/4 cup plus 1 Tb) solidified chicken fat. If you don’t have enough fat skimmed from the sauce, you can add chicken fat from homemade chicken soup.

For vegetarian tamales:

2 cups (1 cup) olive oil

Directions:

Mix masa harina with salt. Sift in baking powder and paprika. Mix well.

For chicken tamales: Beat chicken fat in mixer on high until fluffy.

For vegetarian tamales: Beat olive oil on high

Add  broth to the dry ingredients, mixing with a spoon, then with your hands until the dry ingredients are moistened. Add about a quarter of the masa to the oil and beat well, then add another quarter of the masa, repeating until all masa is incorporated. Beat until dough has a fluffy and moist consistency.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate the masa for an hour or so, then return it to the mixmaster. Beat it again, adding more broth if necessary to make a soft dough.

ball of masaIt should not stick to your fingers, and you should be able to form a smooth ball of masa. It should float in a bowl of cold water. If it’s too sticky, add a little masa.

Assembling the Tamales

Now you are ready to assemble the tamales. This is best done with your family and/or friends helping – a tamalada.

Spread the masa in a thin layer on the wide end of the hoja, leaving  about 3 inches bare on the pointy end and a small border around the sides.. You can use the back of a spoon, or your fingers. I find it works best if your fingers are moist and not too full of masa.

For chicken tamales, put in a spoonful of the shredded prepared chicken. Make it into a long rectangle.

For vegetarian tamales, place a spoonful of beans without liquid, a strip of chili and a piece of jack cheese. Vegans can skip the cheese, or use vegan cheese.

fold in one side

Fold the other side in so they overlap,

then fold up the pointy end.

Tear thin strips from several hojas to use for tying the tamales. I use the torn or ugly hojas. Tie tamale with the strip of hoja.

cooked tamales

When all tamales are assembled, heat water in the bottom of a tamale pot or large steamer Put a couple of dimes in the water. This is known as a paradigm. Add the tamales with the folded end down and the tied end up on the steamer tray.

steam tamales with bowl in the middleIf you don’t have enough tamales to fill your pot, place an metal bowl upside down in the middle of the tamales to hold them upright.

Stretch some foil over the top of the pot to help trap the steam in. Cover the steamer, and cook on low heat for 1 ½ hours. The dimes will rattle in the water. If the water runs out, the dimes will stop rattling and you must add more water or the tamales will burn! Check on it every 20 minutes to make sure theirs enough water. pour the water in through a funnel between the tamales.

When the masa separates easily from the corn husk, the tamales are done. Uncover the pot, turn off the flame and let dry out for 15 minutes or until you can’t wait any longer to eat them!

Unwrap and enjoy with sliced Roma tomatoes. Warm the chili sauce and pour over the tamales, or top with Frijoles pintos.

Feliz Navidad!

serving tamales with sliced tomatoes

 

Minestrone Soup

Fall in the Bay Area brings a few weeks of sunshine to ripen tomatoes, then rainy and chilly days, perfect Minestrone Soup weather. Pick those ripened tomatoes off the withering vines, combine them with broth and chopped veggies and herbs in a big pot. This is a pretty forgiving recipe, so if you want to clean out the veggie bin of your fridge, throw in what you’ve got. You could use frozen veggies  or canned tomatoes. There is a use for everything, even Parmesan cheese rinds! The rind lends a wonderful flavor to the soup. If it doesn’t break up, leave it in the pot when serving.

10 servings:
1 or more Parmesan rinds
1 large onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 bunch red Swiss chard, leaves torn off ribs and chopped fine, to make about 3 ½ cups, dice the ribs
1 large red bell pepper, diced to make 1 cup
1 large green bell pepper, diced to make 1 cup
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms
1 Tb salt (to taste)
½  tsp fresh minced rosemary
1 Tb fresh minced oregano
1 tsp dried basil
6 cloves garlic, minced
several grinds black pepper
One package (4 links) Aidells chicken sausages. either artichoke and garlic or sun-dried tomato with mozzarella cheese (optional)
1 bay leaf
several shakes red pepper flakes
10 cups (2 1/2 quarts) homemade chicken or vegetable stock Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup or vegetable broth (you can use boxed stock, but it won’t be as good!)
1 can tomato paste
4 cups diced tomatoes (Roma is best)
OR 28 ounce can San Marzano peeled tomatoes to sub for tomatoes and tomato paste
4 dried Porcini mushrooms
1 rind Parmesan cheese
1  cup peeled and diced carrots (2 large carrots)
2 peeled and diced red potatoes
2/3 cup small pasta (I used the tiny tubes called ditalini for my last batch, but I have also used salad macaroni)
4 small zucchini, diced to make 1 ½ cups
1/2 pound green beans, chopped
1 15-oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed.
1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels
1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
1 small bunch Italian parsley, chopped.
1 Tb fresh minced basil (about 5 leaves)
 
Garnish:
a few pinches dried oregano to taste
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

 

Heat stock, Parmesan rinds, tomato paste, tomatoes or canned tomatoes  in a large pot.

Grind dried Porcini mushrooms in a coffee grinder or small food processor and add to the stock. Add salt to taste.

Scrub mushrooms and rinse well. Dry in paper towel. and cut off woody ends from the stems. Place mushrooms on toaster oven tray and spray with olive oil spray. Broil for 10 minutes. When they cool, cut them in quarters and add to stock.

Stir-fry onions, red bell pepper, chard ribs, garlic, celery, and herbs in  olive oil in a heavy skillet until translucent. Add to stock.

Slice sausages in quarters lengthwise and then into half-coins. Stir fry in the same skillet as the onions were in for about 4 minutes, until browned. Add to soup, then ladle some soup into the frying pan and scrape the browned bits into the soup, then pour back into the pot.

Stir in carrots, chard leaves, canned beans, and potato and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in pasta, green beans, zucchini, parsley, corn and peas. Cook 10 minutes on medium. Stir in fresh basil.

Discard bay leaf and ladle into bowl. Stir in a pinch of dried oregano, fresh basil, and a few spoonfuls of grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy with a slice of good bread such as Acme herb slab, foccacia, olive bread, or sourdough baguette. Manga!

Sonia’s guacamole

My 17 year-old daughter Sonia makes awesome guacamole for her friends, and if I’m lucky she’ll leave me some too. Here is her amazing recipe.

Ingredients:

2 avocados

½ Roma tomato, finely chopped

½ minced jalapeño or Serrano chili pepper

2 tsp. minced onion (to taste)

juice of ½  lime

2 Tb salsa casera (we use Herdez brand)

salt to taste

Smash the avocados in a bowl with a potato masher. Stir in tomato, jalapeños, lime juice and salsa. Add onion to taste and salt to taste. Stir well.

Eggplant Marinara


Rich with eggplant, mushrooms and fresh tomatoes, spicy with Italian sausage,  garlic and pepper, and fragrant with fresh herbs, this marinara sauce is ideal for pasta or Lasagna. There are two ways to make this marinara: with eggplant purée or sliced Italian eggplant. You could even use both for an extra helping of vegetables. I roasted the mushrooms to bring out their earthy flavor.

I took a tip from The Breakaway Cook Eric Gower, and added ground dried mushrooms for umami, (Japanese for savory deliciousness), which wonderfully expands and rounds out flavors.

Along with my homegrown herbs, I add a fresh bay leaf. I pick them when I get the chance to hike in the hills around Berkeley and Palo Alto. Their aroma brings me memories of my youth hiking and biking those hills. Just be careful about leaving them in too long – the fresh ones are very strong and can overpower the sauce, making it bitter. Just leave it in about 15 minutes.

Serves 8 (with pasta)

3 links turkey Italian sausage or vegetarian sausage

1 Tb olive oil

1 onion, chopped fine

1 Tb  salt (to taste)

½ tsp. red chili flakes

5 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

3 Tb minced fresh oregano OR  3 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary

1 tsp. minced fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp. minced fresh tarragon or 1/2 tsp dried tarragon

several grinds black pepper

2 bell peppers and/or red bell peppers. (can substitute 3 cups frozen or 2 cups jarred roasted red peppers)

1 small (6 oz) can tomato paste

¼ cup red wine

2 lbs or 14 large soft Roma tomatoes (substitute 24 oz can of crushed tomatoes and 24 oz diced tomatoes

1 Tb sugar to taste

1 bay leaf

3 dried mushrooms

1 roasted globe eggplant  and/or  4 Italian eggplants, cut in rounds and quartered

1 cup quartered mushrooms

1  14-oz can artichoke hearts, quartered

I bunch (1/4 cup minced) fresh basil

Italian eggplant method: Roast or barbecue eggplant and peppers. Discarding ends, slice eggplant into rounds, then quarter the rounds.

Globe Eggplant Method: Pierce globe eggplant with a fork, and roast in a heavy oiled baking pan in 400’ oven for 1 hour until it collapses.  Roast red peppers and mushrooms for the last ½ hour alongside the eggplant. You can roast the vegetables a day ahead of time.

You can also barbecue the eggplant peppers and mushrooms.

While eggplant is roasting and cooling, make the rest of the sauce.

Slice, quarter and brown sausages and drain the fat.

Sauté onion and salt in olive oil until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes Add sausage, chopped fresh or frozen bell peppers (if not roasting them), chili flakes, garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme and black pepper. Sauté another couple of minutes until herbs release their fragrance.

Add tomato paste, then fill tomato paste can with water then stir in the tomato paste that has stuck to the can.

Halve Roma tomatoes and scoop out seeds and fibrous ribs.

Pulse tomatoes in food processor until desired consistency is reached. I did mine on the chunky side. (If you are using canned tomatoes, add them instead.) Stir into tomato paste and herb mixture. Add sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes.

If using chopped Italian eggplant, add it to sauce.

If using globe eggplant, scrape it out from the peel and mince it. Stir it into the sauce.

Quarter mushrooms and mix in sauce.

Grind the dried mushrooms until pulverized in a clean coffee grinder or spice grinder. Stir into sauce.

Add 1/4 cup wine and sip some on the side…

If using roasted bell peppers, stir them into the sauce.

Stir well and let simmer for an hour. You can make this in a crock pot and let it simmer for several hours.

Add quartered artichoke hearts and tarragon for last 10 minutes of cooking. Just before serving over pasta or making lasagna, stir in basil and cook a couple of minutes.

Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans)

¡Frijoles! Mexican Pinto Beans

These beans are a favorite of my friends and family. This recipe evolved from my mother-in-law’s frijoles al charro. She made hers with bacon to flavor the beans. I usually omit the bacon, but it’s good either way. The chipotle and smoked paprika give it a nice smokiness. You can either use powdered chipotle or a whole one. Discard the seeds and ribs, unless you want super spicy beans.

There are many opinions  in this family about cooking beans. My husband is  insistent about not soaking the beans first, as he swears that takes away the flavor. I boil the beans with all the flavorings on the theory that they will soak up the flavors. My mother-in-law says the garlic will help eliminate the gas from the beans. She told me never to put salt in until the end because it will toughen the beans. And I add cocoa powder to bring out the flavor of the chilies, just as the ancient Aztecs did.

epazoteI recently started to add epazote leaves, which are popular in southern Mexican cooking. My mother in-law, who came from northern Mexico, didn’t use them. They have a sharp smell, akin to turpentine, but they adds wonderful flavor to the beans.

Ingredients

9 cups of water

1 chopped onion

4 minced garlic cloves

1/2 – 1 tsp. chipotle powder (to taste) or 1 dried chipotle pepper

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika (optional)

1 tsp. cumin powder (comino)

1 1/2 tsp. cocoa powder

2 tsp. dried oregano

1 diced Roma (plum) tomato

1 diced bell pepper (green or red) or 1 cup frozen diced bell peppers

1 bunch of chopped epazote leaves, stems discarded

3 cups dry pinto beans

2-3 tsp. salt to taste

Wash beans thoroughly, checking that there are no stones.

Heat water to boil in large pot.

Add  chopped onion, garlic and seasonings.

When water is boiling again, add beans and boil for a minute or two.

beans with epazote stirred in

Pour into a crock pot. Cook on low until very tender, usually 5 hours. You can make it in the evening and let it cook overnight or make it in the morning and it will be ready for dinner. Add 2-3 tsp salt to taste when cooked. Serve with fresh cilantro, either queso cotija, queso fresco, cheddar or jack cheese, and chopped onion if desired.  Serve with warm corn tortillas.

Excellent for making tostadas. Simply mash well-cooked beans with the pot liquor, no frying necessary.

Vegetarian/ Vegan tacos: Fill a warmed tortilla with beans, fresh tomato, avocado and cilantro. Top with salsa and a shake of sea salt.

Store beans in small containers in the freezer. Sure beats opening a can!