Pico de Gallo

Pico de Gallo

With a holiday in the U.S. this weekend, it’s prime time for a summertime party. We have lots of cookout ideas on the blog, some of which I covered at the beginning of summer with my Cookouts post. Here’s one more salsa recipe to add to last week’s Deadly Green Sauce. Unlike last week’s salsa recipe, this is a uncooked salsa, and it’s relatively mild. I suspect that the way I make it isn’t traditional. It is, however, flavorful, and makes a lot. The proportions of ingredients are a matter of individual taste. The amounts below are guidelines. Some people don’t like cilantro; you can substitute parsley, but keep in mind that the flavor will be radically different if you do. The amount of jalapeños depends on the size of the pepper as much as how hot you want it. Because this is a large batch of salsa, the amount of jalapeños in the recipe isn’t as excessive as it might appear. Use more if you want it to have more of a kick. Freshly chopped jalapeños can sometimes cause skin irritation so food handling gloves are recommended.

This makes about 6 cups.

2 onions
2 med or large tomatoes
3 average sized jalapeños (or 2 large)
1 clove garlic (2 if they’re small)
Bunch of cilantro
A little bit of parsley (optional)
5 Tbls vinegar
5 Tbls olive oil

The tomatoes should be diced by hand. I use regular slicing tomatoes for this. They’re very juicy and you’ll have a very wet mess of tomatoes when you’re done. Slide it, juice and all, from the cutting board into a large non-metallic bowl. Dice the onions finely either by hand or in a food processor. Dice the jalapeños very finely. The texture I go for is that the onions are cut finer than the tomatoes, and the jalapeños are diced more finely than the onions. The garlic I run through a garlic press. Chop up a supermarket sized bunch of cilantro as finely as you can, but don’t worry about it if some leaves slip through. I use the whole bunch, but use as much or as little as you want. I usually throw in a little parsley because I have Italian Flat Leafed Parsley in my garden almost year ’round. How much I add depends on whether it’s taking over the garden. 😉

The oil and vinegar give this almost the character of a chopped salad, albeit one in which cilantro and parsley stand in for the leafy greens. I learned to make it like this right after college; I had some that tasted great, so I asked what was in it. That’s how I found out about using an oil and vinegar dressing, which I think helps the flavors to meld.

Stir all the ingredients together well. Chill thoroughly before serving. This is good to make up ahead of time; the flavor will improve the longer it chills. Give it a good stirring before serving. As a dip, it’s fairly chunky. This is often used as a flavorful addition to wrapped-in-tortilla things.

See the Cookout for Vegetarian, Vegans and Friends who aren’t too sure about this post for cookout suggests for this Independence day. Also check out the snacks, yummy dips, and salsa tags for more recipes.


Deadly Green Sauce

This is the hottest thing I’ve posted here, so if you think some of my other recipes are too spicy, buckle up your safety harness ’cause this is rocket fuel (though the formula can be used with other, milder, peppers, if you prefer). It’s an authentic Mexican recipe and too hot to make often. But it really has a great jalapeño flavor, once your taste buds have adjusted to the assault. I also like the way it handles the jalapeños; you don’t have to use gloves or burn your fingers on chopping jalapeños. This is a good way to use up your heavy-bearing pepper plants in the summer. It’s a very, very, basic recipe. Fast and easy.

  • 15-20 whole jalapeño
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 small onion, sliced (it doesn’t matter how thick or thin)
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder

Put the tomato, jalapeños, and onion into a saucepan and simmer until the peppers are done. Test the peppers with a fork; they’re done when they’re soft. Scoop out the tomato, onions, and peppers with a slotted spoon, reserving the liquid. Put the vegetables into a blender and add the garlic powder and 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Blend until homogeneous. If the sauce is too thick, add more juice. Cool. Serve with chips. Warn your friends!

Terrific alternatives: As I mentioned above, this is a pretty basic recipe and if the idea of packing that many jalapeños into sauce horrifies you, there are less dangerous alternatives. There is a milder variety of jalapeño called the TAM jalapeño (developed at Texas A&M). If you want something hotter, try using habeñeros (though you might need to use fewer of them). I honestly wouldn’t want to recommend it because I don’t want you to hurt yourself. This jalapeño recipe ought to be more than hot enough for most people. This is a good formula for making a cooked chile pepper sauce. Try other types of peppers with different flavors and levels of hotness. You’ll need to guestimate how many to use since they’ll be a different size than the peppers used in the recipe. Choose a pepper (or assortment of chiles) you like the flavor of because this is mostly cooked pureed pepper, so that will completely dominate the flavor. It’s also a good way create your own custom salsa; experiment with mixing a variety of peppers until you get the blend of hotness and flavor you want.

At this point you may be curious what my own custom salsa recipe looks like. I should probably come up with one, but what I usually do is just fake my way through with whatever peppers I have on hand in the garden, which varies throughout the summer and from year to year. There was one year in which I let the jalapeños and a few other chile peppers (7 varieties total) ripen all the way to red…and it was an unusually hot summer where I lived at the time (temps over 100 on a daily basis, which results in hotter peppers). I showed up at a friend’s house bearing a container of sauce that stopped him dead in his tracks. “That’s a scary shade of red,” he said. It was, indeed. We emptied his cupboards of tomato sauce trying to dilute it down enough to use as an enchilada sauce. It was great, but we couldn’t really see the food because our eyes were watering so much! So, if you grow your own ingredients for this, be aware that letting chiles ripen all the way to red will result in a hotter pepper, and places with hotter climates will produce hotter peppers than places with milder summers. Mix and match with whatever you’ve got on hand from the garden or whatever is available from the supermarket. Summer through early fall is prime time for peppers. Experiment and enjoy!

When The Cupboard Is Bare: Fast and Spicy Pasta Sauce


Hot, hearty, spicy, fast, easy, and delicious! What more could you want?

This is another of my “cupboard is bare” improvisations. There are a few things I’d recommend having on hand to keep from having absolutely no options when you need a fast flavorful hearty meal. Find a spice blend that’s not part of your usual flavor palette. In this case I’m using saté, a flavor combination which is Indonesian in origin. Having some blend that’s not your usual Italian, Mexican, Whatever, is a nice change of pace and can make those hasty “cupboard is bare” meals into something special. For this reason I keep not only saté, but also a Turkish seasoning blend from Penzys on hand.

I don’t generally recommend spice blends because over-reliance on them will result in everything tasting the same. Also, some spice blends include salt, which is not good if you need to restrict salt intake, but also in general it’s not good to have pre-added salt because it can potentially throw things off depending on what you’re making. But…it’s good to have one or two blends that you don’t use excessively — and which you can tweak by adding other seasonings. (If you need to restrict salt intake, look for blends with no salt; these days lots of companies — including Penzys — formulate no-salt options for at least some blends.)

Another thing I recommend keeping on hand is a lot of different flavors of pasta. Pasta cooks quickly and it’s filling. Flavored pastas are often colorful, too. What to put on it? Please, please, stock tomato paste in your pantry in addition to tomato sauce. Tomato paste is basically concentrated tomato sauce. Stocking it means that you can control the thickness of the sauce, so for fast meals when you want a thick sauce it doesn’t take as long to cook down to desired consistency. But stocking it in addition to tomato sauce means that you can still make sauce, even when you’re out of sauce! It’s also handy for thickening up a pasta sauce that’s too thin. When I use canned diced tomatoes for sauce I add tomato paste to give me a better thickness and texture to the sauce. So stock some small cans of tomato paste! They’re unbelievably handy!

For this recipe I used Penzys saté (which does have salt), paired with some complementary seasonings. For pasta I used a half bag of Al Dente Spicy Sesame Linguini. (I had more pasta than sauce.) It is not, to my palate, very spicy…though their red chili fettuccine is. So, you might want to omit the pinch of red pepper if using a spicier pasta than the Sesame. Or omit the red pepper if you’re leery of spicy-hot food. The saté seasoning has spiciness built in to it, so additional red pepper is optional and really a matter of whether you want this spicy or hot. The seasonings I used will still give you a very flavorful somewhat spicy sauce, with no additional red pepper added.

Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway) you can make a better version of this if using fresh mushrooms sautéd in a small amount of oil prior to throwing the sauce together. And adding more water and simmering this longer will allow the flavors to meld even more. But this is the fast version for those nights before the grocery shopping trip, or when for whatever reason (getting home late) you realize that you just don’t have the time or energy to do some more elaborate thing you’d planned. There’s no reason you can’t have a great tasty meal even if you have little time and few ingredients. Don’t settle for a can of something! Keep a special seasoning blend, tomato paste, and an assortment of pastas in your pantry. Don’t ever let those basics run out!

This makes enough for two generous servings. Increase sauce ingredients to make more.

1/2 tsp saté
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp tumeric
Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 4oz can mushrooms, sliced or pieces
12 pieces Simple Truth Meatless Griller strips
Al Dente Spicy Sesame Linguini or other quickly cooking pasta.

Mix all the sauce ingredients, including the griller strips, in a saucepan. Add at least one can of water to the paste. You may need to add more. (I did.) Cook until the sauce is to the desired consistency and the griller strips are done. The griller strips package has a recommended temperature for cooking. Since the strips are frozen, make sure you simmer them long enough to cook them!

Cook the pasta according to package instructions. What will take the most time is getting the water to a boil, especially if you use a large pot, which I recommend to help avoid boil overs.

Serve sauce over pasta. Leftover vegetables can be served as a side dish. Or you can steam some in the microwave while waiting for the pasta water to boil.

Cookouts For Vegetarians, Vegans, and Friends who aren’t too sure about this…

Grilling the corn.

Grilling the corn.

I’m posting this a bit earlier than my usual schedule for weekly posts because no doubt by now you’re planning your holiday weekend. With the Memorial Day weekend just around the corner, and the beginning of summer cookout season, vegetarians, vegans and their omnivorous friends may all look at each other and say, “What do we do?” Casual outdoor parties which prominently feature hosts who play with fire need not be impossible to navigate for vegetarians, vegans, or the people who throw the party (who might not be vegetarian). There’s lots of options for everyone and this post will link to some of the yummy cookout posts here from previous years, as well as thoughts and tips for navigating cookouts that are less veg-friendly. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, there’s no reason you can’t throw a helluva party with amazing food that omnivores will scarf up with pleasure. Likewise, if you’re an omnivore, you don’t have to exclude your vegetarian friends from cookouts. Throw a great party around the grill! There are only two requirements and they’re easy.

Firstly, if you are hosting a cookout, always cook the vegetarian items on the grill before the meat items, if you’re planning on cooking any meat. (Vegetarian cookouts can be awesome! Check out the links at the end of this post.) The second requirement is that you and your guests love good food. 🙂 See? Easy.

Portobello burgers, grilled corn and homemade potato salad.

Portobello burgers, grilled corn and homemade potato salad.

There are some vegetarians and vegans who just can’t stand to be around any meat at all. Please, if you’re an omnivore, find out if your veggie-loving friends are okay with a meat option if cooked after the veggie components of the meal go on the grill. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian and you’re invited to a cookout with friends who are omnivores, ask if you should bring your own burgers or soy dogs or if they will be provided. If you’re bringing your own, arrive early. At least early enough that the whole meal isn’t held up waiting for the veg items to be put on the grill. Try not make too big a deal about it all, or inconvenience your host. This really shouldn’t be a big deal.

If they invited you to a cookout, it’s probably because they like you, enjoy your company, and want you to have a good time. You should honor their effort to accommodate your dietary choices and be happy to be included. On the off chance they invited you as some sort of passive aggressive way of disapproving of you and making you feel uncomfortable and unwanted, then they are very clearly and sadly in the wrong by any standard of civility and hospitality. How you respond to this is a personal decision and depends on the sort of person you are, whether you’re a “turn the other cheek” sort of person or a “my way or the highway” sort of person. Please don’t start a fight: people won’t remember that the host treated you poorly, only that you were screaming at them. Remember: the whole idea is to socialize, have fun, and eats tons of good food!

BBQ Baked Beans, hot and spicy!

BBQ Baked Beans, hot and spicy!

If no accommodation is made for your food choices, there are still some workarounds you can do as a vegetarian or vegan. One thing I did at a cookout was to make a sloppy joe style burger for myself out of the baked beans — which I had brought. If you didn’t make the beans you can’t know for sure if it’s vegetarian or vegan, but it’s a small compromise, as such things go. If you want to be sure such a work-around option is vegetarian, then offer to bring the BBQ Baked Beans. 🙂 They’re spicy and tasty and will win friends. I have people ask for this recipe every time I take it to a cookout where there’s people who haven’t had it before.



Social situations are supposed to be fun. Food is culture — and it’s inclusiveness, too. Sharing meals is one of those things that binds groups of people together. Making meals together, too. Also, potlucks. This is socially and culturally important. And fun. Let’s not forget the fun! Below are some previous posts about cookouts, about vegetarian burger and hotdog options, and recipes for various yummy things you can grill or bring. You will note that some of these posts refer to Thanksgiving. I live near the Texas Gulf Coast; cookout season easily extends to Thanksgiving and I’ve found that a vegetarian cookout for Thanksgiving is good analogue for a traditional Thanksgiving: everyone brings dishes and helps with the cooking, there’s a festive party atmosphere, and we all eat way too much! 😉

I don’t have a “bean burger” recipe (yet), and haven’t been diligent about creating one because I love the LightLife Backyard Grillin’ Burgers for cookouts. (Their other burgers are also good, but the Backyard Grillin Burgers are the absolute best for the grill.)

Give our blog a good browse and you’ll come up with desserts, too! (Throwing a party? Going to a party? Read about The Sticky Business of RSVPs. I wrote it for the Christmas season, but yeah, totally applicable to cookouts!)

Red Chile Fettucine with Tomatoes and Kale


Red chili pasta with tomatoes and kale

This is a fast, easy, meal. Simple, but with complex flavors due to the combination of flavored pasta and seasonings. It’s also very colorful, lowfat, and nutritious. And did I mention it tastes good? I know some people aren’t crazy about kale, but if you season things right, the greens don’t overwhelm the other flavors. Greens. I added kale to this simply because I saw some nice looking bunches of lacinato kale at the store. You could do something like this with any type of greens that are in season, though, of course it would taste different depending on what you added and you would almost certainly have to adjust the seasonings to complement the alternative additions. Why throw in greens at all? It’s fast, easy, and nutritious. Greens of various types can be added to a lot of things pretty easily simply because they cook quickly. They’re leaves. It doesn’t take much to cook them. Most of these ingredients are staples that you may have on hand in the pantry anyway, so grab a handful of fresh kale and you’ve got bright delicious meal. The secret of this dish is in the pasta and the seasonings.


Al Dente Red Chile Fettucine

I served this light sauce over Al Dente’s Red Chile Fettucine. It is spicy. If you use some other non-spicy pasta, you should probably add a little bit of hot pepper such as cayenne or Hungarian hot paprika to give it the missing spiciness.

Smoked Spanish Style Paprika (from Penzeys).

Smoked Spanish Style Paprika (from Penzeys).

Speaking of paprika…I recently discovered smoked paprika at Penzys and that’s the other secret ingredient in this dish. The first time I used it I went waaaaay overboard, so this time I used a more modest amount. If you want to really ramp up the smoky flavor use a bit more than I did. The smoky paprika when combined with the other seasonings and spicy fettuccine noodles is subtle in the amount I used.

I also kept the dish light using garlic powder instead of sauteing garlic in oil. The “sauce” is very thin and there’s not much of it. Mostly it’s pasta, tomatoes, kale, and griller strips. If you want more of a traditional red pasta sauce — or to increase the amount of servings — try adding a 15 oz can of tomato sauce in addition to the can of diced tomatoes. (You will need to increase the seasoning, if you increase the amount of sauce.) Alternately, when the weather warms up and there are tomatoes galore, you could make this with chopped fresh tomatoes.

This makes three generous (big bowl) servings or four more modest servings.

  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 3/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 garlic powder
  • pinch of salt
  • Lacinato kale, washed and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 bag of Simple Truth griller strips
  • Al Dente’s Red Chile Fettucine

While water for pasta is coming to a boil (use a big pot), simmer the diced tomatoes and seasonings on low-ish heat, in a medium (or large) saucepan, covered. The saucepan needs to be significantly bigger than the amount of sauce because you’ll be adding kale and griller strips — and you need to be able to stir without slinging bits of kale all over the kitchen. (Been there, done that.)

You don’t need to simmer very long before you add the kale, stirring it in and then covering the pot again. When the kale has wilted a bit, add a half bag of griller strips, stirring in. Since these are frozen, it will bring the temp down, so stir it quite a bit and make sure the strips have sufficient time to thaw and cook. It doesn’t need much cooking time, but it does need to heat up first!

By now the pasta water should be boiling. Or not. The pasta only takes 3 minutes to cook, so don’t fidget over how long it takes the water to come to a boil. Just keep the pot of sauce covered and the heat under it low, stirring occasionally, so it doesn’t stick or cook completely away. Remember: there won’t be much actual sauce. It’s mostly going to be veg and griller strips.

When the pasta is done, drain, but do not rinse. Serve the tomato, kale, and griller strips over the hot spicy Red Chile Fettuccine pasta. Enjoy.


Spicy, smokey, and delicious!


Hazelnut Date Scones (Vegan)

Hazelnut date scones, piping hot!

Hazelnut date scones, piping hot!

This is yet another variation on my Hazelnut Scones Three Ways recipe. This is a fourth variation, with an added twist that I used soy milk for the milk. I’m experimenting with substituting soy milk in some recipes and used it recently in Apricot Ginger Scones, so I thought I’d see how it works in this recipe which has ground hazelnuts as half the base. The soy milk worked well and the dates were a good addition to this hazelnut scone recipe. I’m sure that there are some add-ins which won’t go well with hazelnuts, but so far I haven’t found any! If you’d like to browse my other scones recipes (and related articles) check out the scones tag. I’m in the process of testing my various scone recipes with soy milk; as I do I’ll make a note in each recipe if that substitution works.

I’ve used both dried chopped dates and whole pitted dates which I chopped myself. They both make delicious scones. I use slightly more dates than I do add-ins in my Hazelnut Scones 3 Ways recipe.

  • 1 1/4 cups of ground hazelnuts
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1Tbls baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbls sugar
  • 8 Tbls Smart Balance Original margarine
  • 1/3 cup dried dates (I used SunMaid Deglet Noor dates)
  • 1/2 cup Silk Organic Unsweetened Soy Milk

Preheat oven 425.

If you don’t have access to hazelnut meal (which I’ve rarely seen), do as I do and grind hazelnuts into a meal in either a coffee grinder or food processor. The meal will be soft and fluffy so it needs to be pressed down in the measuring cup to get an accurate measure. It only takes seconds to make the small amount of meal needed for the recipe, so this extra step in scone making does not add an appreciable amount of time or effort to the preparation.

Mix dry ingredients. Cut in margarine with a fork, pastry blender, or your fingers. Then toss in dates. Mix in with your fingers, breaking up any pieces that look or feel too big. This is especially important if you used whole dates which you chopped yourself, not because you did a poor job of chopping, but because those dates are much stickier and tend to clump. Separate out any clumps and sift through your fingers until the mix looks more or less homogenous.

Add soy milk. Stir until it forms a sticky dough. Form into a dozen balls, about 2 inches in diameter, I’d guess.

Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 425 for 15 minutes. Your oven may vary. Scones should be slightly browned on top and done all the way through when tested with a toothpick. If some of the balls of dough were bigger than others, test those for doneness.

While the scones are baking, make a pot of tea (or coffee, if you prefer). These scones go particularly well with strong black British breakfast tea blends. Serve the scones hot from the oven. Store cooled leftover scones in an airtight container. They’re good the next day, too! (Assuming you have any left over!) 😉


Apricot Ginger Scones (Vegan)

20150331_161943Usually when trying something new I try to limit changes to one thing at a time so I know which new thing is the problem if my “fake it when you bake it” recipe goes awry, but I was pretty sure this was going to work out okay, so I used soy milk to see how vegan would work for scones. I’ve had this flavor combination in mind for a while, but only just recently threw a bunch of ingredients together and tried it out. Oh, wonderful!

I love crystalized ginger. I put it in my tea sometimes, or snack on it. But I realize that its combination of sharp and sweet may not be to everyone’s tastes, and I didn’t want it to overwhelm the other flavors so I used less of it than the dried fruit. More than 1/8th cup, but less than 1/4 cup. The ginger and nutmeg play very well together. Also, because the crystalized ginger is lightly dusted with sugar — and the fruit is sweet, too — I can get away with very little added sugar in this recipe. You might could pare the added sugar down even more, depending on how sweet you like your scones.

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 Tbls baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbls sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 8 Tbls margarine
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup dried apricots, diced
  • slightly less than 1/4 cup crystalized ginger, diced
  • 2/3 cup soy milk (I used Silk organic unsweetened)

Preheat oven 425. Stir together all the dry ingredients (first five ingredients). Then blend in the margarine with a fork, pastry cutter, or just use your hands, until it’s all worked in evenly. Toss in the fruits and stir in well so that it’s evenly distributed. Pour in soy milk. Stir until the dough starts to come together, then use your hands and knead it until it makes a firm round of dough. Divide into two more or less equal pieces. Shape each into a ball and then a flattened round probably 5 or 6 inches in diameter. Place the rounds on an ungreased baking sheet. Cut each into 6 equal wedge-shaped pieces. Separate the wedges on the baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes or until done. (If the wedges don’t come out equal sized, then test the larger ones with a toothpick for doneness when you take them out of the oven.)

This is heavenly! Good as is, or broken apart with a dab of margarine inside. You could put jam on them, but this has so much fruit and flavor that jam might be overkill! 😉


Roasted New Potatoes, Mediterranean Style

I spotted an assortment of new potatoes in the store: red, white and…blue? Well, the third variety (and of course, they weren’t named) had a dark skin and though I’ve read about purple potato varieties in gardening magazines and catalogs I hadn’t actually eaten any. The assortment was lovely. In the future, however, I think I will choose a less dark way of preparing any dark/blue/purple type of potato because it sort of blended with the rest of the ingredients. On the other hand…once they are sliced in half the blue/purple potatoes have a strikingly lovely color that went all the way through. I want to look for more of these potatoes (or maybe grow my own). (Imagine what potato salad would look like!)


Lovely spring color! Yummy, too!

This recipe a yummy way of cooking potatoes. If you don’t have new potatoes (though there should be plenty of small potatoes in stores and markets at this time of year) you can also do this with larger red or white (or purple) potatoes: just cut them into halves or quarters.

Cooking time on this is a bit variable, not just depending on your stove, but also depending on the size of the potatoes. I’ve seen some “new” potatoes that were pretty big for small potatoes, but on the other hand, in this assortment pictured here the potatoes were the smallest new potatoes I’ve seen. I bake these for an hour at 350. You can probably go less, depending on the size of the potatoes or potato pieces. They’re done when you can easily stick a fork in them.

You can use canned mushrooms in this, but fresh is sooooo much better. Canned mushrooms are for when you forget to buy fresh and otherwise have all the ingredients on hand. If using canned mushrooms, don’t saute them, just stir them in with the olives.

This smells amazing: olive oil, mushrooms, garlic and rosemary. Really, the potatoes are just an excuse to blend all these wonderful things together. Prep doesn’t take much time. This recipe is easy and can be made easily with no fuss or hassle.

1 lb white button mushrooms
1 med onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic (depending on size of cloves & how much you like garlic), minced or run through garlic press
Olive oil
1 1/2 lbs new potatoes
2 Tbls rosemary
3-4 oz sliced black olives, rinsed and drained

Preheat oven 350.

Wash and drain potatoes. Clean mushrooms and remove stems. Coarsely slice mushrooms. Saute mushrooms in a small amount of olive oil until they start to turn color and make their own juice. Add chopped onion and garlic. Let simmer over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, while you mix up the other ingredients.

In a large bowl, drizzle 4 Tbls olive oil over new potatoes. Sprinkle in 2 Tbls dried rosemary. Toss to coat. Add the rinsed and well drained black olives. Stir. By now the mushrooms and onions have cooked down a bit and have created a bit of yummy smelling broth. Dump the hot mixture into the bowl with the potatoes and stir well.


Red, white, and purple potatoes, before they go into the oven.

Then transfer the potatoes to a shallow baking dish and bake uncovered at 350, uncovered, for 1 hour…or less depending on your oven and the size of the potatoes. They’re done when they’re tender.


Hot out of the oven! Some potatoes were so small I probably could’ve cooked it for less time.

These make yummy left-overs…except that I’ve rarely had any left! It can work as a make-ahead dish which is then reheated in the microwave.

More Vegetarian Tacos!

20150318_191921You may recall my previous Taco recipe using Mexican style Smart Ground. This is similar, but the seasoning has been adjusted for a different filling. There doesn’t seem to be a reliable local source for the Mexican flavored Smart Ground, so I’ve adapted that recipe to use Simple Truth’s Meatless Crumbles. This soy protein meat substitute is significantly different from both the Mexican Smart Ground and the regular Smart Ground (which doesn’t work well for tacos). For one thing, the Simple Truth Meatless Crumbles comes in a bag in the freezer section, not packed in a tight block in the refrigerator section of the grocery store. This gives it a longer storage life, and because you can break up the icy package a bit (like the way you do frozen peas), it means that you can measure out specific amounts rather than use the whole package. I do use the whole package for this recipe, but I like the versatility of the Simple Truth Meathless Crumbles.

Another way the Meatless Crumbles is versatile is that it doesn’t seem to have much in the way of flavoring added to it, unlike the Smart Ground….And since I was using Mexican flavored Smart Ground (when I could find it) I had to adjust the seasoning quite a bit. The Meatless Crumbles seem like a good option for a lot of recipes because it doesn’t bring so much in the way of a distinctive flavor to a dish, so that it can just really soak up the flavors and seasonings you add.

And “soak it up” is a very apt phrase. One thing you’ll notice as soon as you add any liquid is that this stuff just sucks it up. It’s a very moist meat substitute. I had to double the amount of water I used because one cup was absorbed so quickly. It may take a bit longer to cook down, but you won’t really cook this mixture dry. I like simmering because it gives the flavors time to blend and be absorbed. If 2 cups of water seems a bit much to you, start with one cup and than just add as much more as you like. It does need to have enough liquid to simmer on low heat for a little while.

1 pkg. Simple Truth Meatless Crumbles
Approximately 1-2 cups water
1 Tbls dried minced onion
1 Tbls chili powder (I use Mexene as my basic chili powder.)
2 tsp ancho powder
1 tsp Hungarian hot paprika
small amount of salt and black pepper
12 Taco shells
Toppings such as lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese or vegan cheese

First brown the Meatless Crumbles in a small amount of oil, on medium heat, stirring continually and breaking up frozen clumps. It should be a bit browned, but definitely thawed. Don’t worry if it sticks to the bottom a bit; water is a universal solvent and you can deglaze the pan as soon as you pour the water in.

Add the water and the seasonings, scrape the pan if needed, and lower the heat to low or medium low. Stir and simmer until it has cooked down to the consistency you want. This makes a fairly moist filling; you’ll want to cook away the liquid, but not simmer it so long that the filling becomes dry or starts to stick to the pan again.

Heat the taco shells according to package directions. Some shells call for adding the filling and then heating, some you heat and then fill. I prefer the latter, but if you grab a box of taco shells that calls for filling the shells before heating, do it: otherwise the shells will shatter spectacularly when you bite into them.

Using one package of Simple Truth’s frozen Meatless Crumbles makes easily enough to fill a dozen taco shells.

This recipe is pretty spicy. If you like things not-so-hot, omit the hot paprika. If it’s still a bit much, then pare back the chili powder a bit. For my previous Vegetarian Taco recipe, I used 2 tsp chili powder and 1 tsp ancho powder, but without the added seasoning of Mexican Smart Ground, that combination (which also included the hot paprika) was disappointingly bland. So you’ve got a couple of options for tweaking the seasoning: you can either start with this recipe and dial it back, or start with the other recipe and crank it up! 😉 A lot of the kick comes from the hot paprika, though. If you’re leary of spicy food, that should be the first thing to go. The chili powder you use also affects the flavor. I use Mexene chili powder. It has a good flavor and makes a nice base to build on.


No room for lettuce in these tacos!


Heirloom Rice: Red and Black

20140906_193605On two separate occasions lately I’ve come across Lotus Foods heirloom rice and picked some up to try out. The first I tried was the Bhutan Red Rice and then the Forbidden Rice, which is a black rice.  The red rice, in addition to being an heirloom variety is also organic, while the black rice is grown with a water saving method. I tested them both together and separately. If you’re looking for a recipe for black rice, check out my fellow blogger Nancy’s Black Rice Salad. I resisted the temptation to do much with the rice the first time I made it because I wanted to evaluate the flavor and texture before fancying it up.

I found both the Bhutan Red and black Forbidden rice at a specialty store last fall and had to give them a try. In general I like heirloom varieties of vegetables, but I’m not sure I’ve had an heirloom grain before! The rice kernals of the Bhutan Red rice are plump and retain their color moderately well in cooking. I cooked it on the stove, more or less according to package instructions. (I had to cook a bit longer because I’ve got a new set of cookware I’m getting used to and had to adjust the temp during cooking.)

I like the way both the red and black rices look. For that alone you might snag a bag if you see it in a store. The unusual look dresses up the meal more than plain ol’ white rice, or even brown rice. The Forbidden Black rice was looked even more spectacular than the red!

I did not rinse the Bhutan Red rice before cooking and the grains were remarkably less sticky than white rice. In fact I had a bit more trouble with the chopsticks because the rice did not clump the way I’m used to. 😉


The flavor, however, was unremarkable. I had expected a different heartier flavor, but it didn’t have a distinctive flavor, though it did not taste like white rice. I added no seasonings, but I think this rice would be a good one for additions of seasoning and vegetables, providing something of a blank canvas for flavors.

Forbidden (black) Rice

The Forbidden Black rice was much more satisfying in some ways. I did give it a quick rinse before cooking, though that didn’t appear necessary from the appearance of the water I poured off. I cooked this in my microwave rice cooker, rather than on the stovetop, using the cooking time suggested for brown rice. It cooked up well and had a wonderful aroma when I opened the pot! Lightly fragrant, almost floral. An elusive scent that dissipated quickly. The rice had a nice clean flavor, and the grains glistened almost purple with the ambient moisture clinging to them. In fact, the small amount of liquid I found at the bottom of the pot was purple. It was a flavorful, dramatic rice. I can see why Nancy chose to use black rice to make her salad. You could mix this with almost anything and have an eye-catching as well as tasty dish. Bright vegetables, such as carrots, peas, or an assortment of brightly colored bell peppers (red, green, yellow, orange) would make a show-stopping rice and veg medley. Like the Bhutan Red, the grains of the Forbidden rice were not sticky and did not clump like white or brown rice does.

Lovely! Forbidden Rice

Lovely! Forbidden Rice

Be aware, however, that both the Bhutan Red and Forbidden Black rice from Lotus Foods comes in a small package: I cooked up one cup from each package and it looks like I have less than a cup left in each bag. It’s probably not economical (I don’t recall what it costs since I bought it last fall) nor eco-friendly (imported from Bhutan and China) to regularly use Red Heirloom Rice from Bhutan, or Forbidden Black rice, but rather buy it only as a novelty for a special meal and dress it up with seasonings and veggies. Be on the lookout for other Lotus brand rices (they have several varieties) as well as more local sources of heirloom rice varieties, especially the black rice. Heirloom rices do not have to be grown on the other side of the world; some heirloom varieties are grown in the U.S.

If you’re a gardener and want to experiment with growing your own heirloom rice, I noticed that Baker Creek Seeds offers two heirloom rice varieties: A Mayan variety called “Blue Bonnet” and a golden variety called “Carolina Gold”. 🙂