shitake mushroom and lentil asian tacos

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Vegetarian food, for me, means something quick and easy, healthy, perfect for a weeknight dinner. There’s no fussing with the handwashing of cooking with chicken, no long braising times. Most are one-bowl meals that don’t require side dishes. The exceptions to these rules invariably include lots of cheese, almost certainly pasta, and a long prep time – and are relegated to weekend meals.

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Few and far between are vegetarian meals that are not only healthy and delicious, but also feel special. This is one. First, it’s tacos, and I’m not out of my taco phase. Second, so many fillings and toppings in the tacos satisfy all sorts of flavor and texture desires.

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The mushroom-lentil mixture has plenty of ingredients that kick up the umami sensation that usually comes from meat. The miso and soy sauce in the sauce don’t hurt either, but the sauce is about more than just umami; it’s sweet and herbal and a bit sour from the rice vinegar. There’s crunch from the carrots and the buttery richness of avocados. All of it combines to form a special occasional dish that is perfectly healthy and not just vegetarian, but vegan. It’s a far cry from most of my favorite vegetarian dishes, and I love it.

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Shitake Mushroom and Lentil Asian Tacos (adapted from Sprouted Kitchen)

Serves 4 to 6

I toasted the garlic, while still peeled, in a small not-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the papery peel started to brown on a few sides. This softens the bite of raw garlic, making it sweeter and more mellow.

My favorite new way to soften corn tortillas for tacos is to spray both sides of them with oil, then heat them in a 400 degree oven until pliable, about 5 minutes. Even better, add some of the mushroom-lentil mixture to the tortillas at that point and fold the tortilla over the filling; continue baking until the tortilla starts to crisp, another 3-5 minutes.

I grew radish sprouts just for this recipe, but they didn’t sprout in time. Bummer. They made a good garnish for avocado and shrimp-filled tortilla cups the next day though.

Miso herb sauce:
3 garlic cloves, peeled (see note)
2 packed cups basil leaves
1 packed cup cilantro
2 tablespoons white or yellow miso
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
pinch of red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons orange juice
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

Tacos:
¾ cup brown or green lentils
salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, thinly diced
12 ounces shitake mushrooms, stems discarded, sliced
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
about 16 corn tortillas, warmed (see note)
2 large or 3 small avocados, peeled and sliced
5 small carrots, peeled and grated
micro greens, for garnish (see note)

1. For the sauce: Place the garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the cutting blade; process until minced. Add the herbs and process until pureed. Add the remaining ingredients and process until the sauce is evenly mixed. Transfer to a serving bowl; set aside.

2. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the lentils and ½ teaspoon of salt. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, partially cover, and cook for about 20 minutes, until tender. Drain.

3. In a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened and translucent. Add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften and release their liquid. Once the liquid evaporates, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and cook until the mushrooms and onions brown. Stir in the cooked lentils and the cider vinegar.

4. Stuff each tortilla with the mushroom-lentil mixture, carrots, avocado, microgreens, and miso-herb sauce. Serve immediately.

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pasta with broccoli, chickpeas, and garlic

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Have I told you that we’re moving? In just a few days, in fact. It isn’t a big move as far as distance, as our new house is just a 15-minute drive away from our old one, but it is big as far as life steps. Having spent the majority of our twenties in graduate school, we watched our friends buy houses while we were still solidly in apartment mode. We’ve rented a nice little house for the last three years since we moved to New Mexico, but now, finally, we’re acting like grown-ups and buying our own place.

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The process hasn’t been without its hiccups. Who knew that ordering lighting fixtures would be so complicated? I keep telling myself that, when we’re settled and I have bright and colorful pendants hanging over the breakfast bar, it’ll be worth it, but for now, I just wish we could find lights that aren’t actually purple when the website says they’re cobalt, or lights with cords that are long enough, or lights that work with the slopes of our vaulted ceilings. Not to mention the hours of packing, visits to the bank, trips to Lowe’s, and oh yeah, we’re going on vacation a week after closing.

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When we’re not eating leftovers from the freezer, we’ve been eating a lot of quick meals like this one. Even better, I’ve gotten in the habit of buying those bags of pre-cut broccoli, which shaves another ten minutes off of prep time. At that point, it’s just an issue of boiling pasta while pan-roasting broccoli, pressing garlic into the pan with a pinch of red pepper flakes, and mixing everything together with a whole lot of lemon juice and parmesan to up the flavor ante. Dinner is served in no time at all, which means I can get back to procrastinating on packing by shopping for light fixtures.

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One year ago: Star Wars Cookies
Two years ago: Cream Cheese Pound Cake
Three years ago: Roll-out Sugar Cookies (comparison of 3 recipes)
Four years ago: Roasted Kale
Five years ago: Spaghetti and Meatballs

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Pasta with Broccoli, Chickpeas, and Garlic (adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

Serves 6

Pasta dishes like this tend to cool quickly after being transferred to serving dishes, so I like to warm the empty bowls in an oven heated to about 200 degrees.

16 ounces whole wheat pasta
salt
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 (12-ounce) bags fresh chopped broccoli (or 3 heads of broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces)
12 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
juice from 1 lemon
1 cup (2 ounces) finely grated parmesan, plus more for garnish

1. Bring 4 quarts water to a rapid boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook according to package instructions. Before draining the cooked pasta, put about 1 cup pasta cooking water in a separate bowl and set aside. Return the drained pasta to the cooking pot.

2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the broccoli and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until bright green and browned in spots, 4-5 minutes. Add ¼ cup water; cover the pan for 1 minute to cook the broccoli through. Remove the lid and push the broccoli to the edges of the pan. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, the garlic, and the red pepper flakes to the center of the pan. Cook, stirring constantly and excluding the broccoli as much as possible, for about 1 minute, then add the chickpeas and stir the mixture into the broccoli. Add the lemon juice and 1 teaspoon salt.

3. Transfer the broccoli to the pot with the pasta, stirring to incorporate. Add about half of the reserved pasta cooking water and 1 cup of cheese, stirring until the cheese melts evenly over the pasta. Taste and adjust for seasoning with more salt, lemon juice, or parmesan. Add more pasta cooking water if the pasta seems dry. Serve immediately in warmed bowls.

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black bean-roasted zucchini-goat cheese enchiladas

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I had a tough week last week. One day I woke up to little ants crawling all over the kitchen. One afternoon I went to the dentist feeling smug about how often I’ve been flossing and left with an appointment to get three cavities filled. One morning I noticed blisters on my waist that were suspiciously familiar – because they’re exactly like the case of shingles* I had just a few weeks ago. The list goes on from there.

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I also learned that I definitely do not have time to make enchiladas on a weeknight, even if the sauce is made in advance. Mixing the filling, heating tortillas, rolling and baking is too much to fit in on top of the daily dose of exercise, laundry, and spraying the kitchen with Raid.

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I guess if all’s well that ends well, you could say I had a great week. After a series of challenging days, nothing could have been more relieving than a night spent sipping wine with friends – even if it’s for a wine appreciation class, we’re all furiously scribbling notes, and technically we’re not supposed to be swallowing the wine. And when I got home from class, a delicious dinner was ready, because I’d skipped a workout the day before to fill and roll and all Dave had to do was transfer the enchiladas to the oven while I was out drinking wine. Maybe last week wasn’t so bad after all.

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(*Getting shingles isn’t fun, but I’m extremely lucky that I only get mild cases.)

One year ago: Fried Eggs with Garlic Yogurt Sauce
Two years ago: Steak Sandwiches
Three years ago: Pumpkin Cupcakes (comparison of 3 recipes)
Four years ago: Pain Ordinaire

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Black Bean-Roasted Zucchini-Goat Cheese Enchiladas (filling adapted from Sprouted Kitchen; sauce from America’s Test Kitchen’s Healthy Family Cookbook via Prevention RD)

I roasted the zucchini on a baking sheet immediately after dicing them, but because zucchini is so wet, I think they would benefit from being sprinkled with about a teaspoon of salt, then allowed to drain for half an hour or so before roasting. If you have one, spinning them dry in a salad spinner would also help them pick up more roasted brown color in the oven. On the other hand, the enchiladas were delicious without this extra step.

Serves 4

Enchiladas:
3 large zucchini, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
zest from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
5 ounces goat cheese, divided
12 corn tortillas

Sauce:
1 teaspoon canola oil
½ small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ tablespoons chili powder
½ tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup water
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
black pepper, to taste

For serving:
2 avocados, diced
½ cup minced cilantro
lime wedges

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, combine the zucchini, onion, oil, lemon zest, and salt. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is softened and maybe slightly browned, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; stir in the black beans and 4 ounces of goat cheese. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

2. While the zucchini roasts, heat 1 teaspoon of canola oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent and slightly browned around the edges, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and sugar; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the water and tomato sauce. Increase the heat to medium-high, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Maintain a low simmer until slightly thickened, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. To soften the tortillas, brush or spray them with a light layer of oil. Arrange 6 tortillas in a single layer on a baking sheet; transfer to the oven and cook for about 3 minutes; flip the tortillas and continue baking for 2 more minutes, until the tortillas are pliable. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

4. Spread a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Divide the filling evenly between the tortillas. Roll the tortillas over the filling, arranging the filled tortillas seam-side down in the baking dish. Cover the rolled tortillas with the remaining enchilada sauce. Sprinkle the remaining 1 ounce of goat cheese over the top of the sauce. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the enchiladas are evenly heated. Let set for 5 minutes before serving with chopped avocado, cilantro, and lime.

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mediterranean chopped salad

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I made this salad for the first time the very day that I posted about how I hate making salads because it always takes so dang long. (And indeed, tonight I made a salad for dinner that included no less than 16 ingredients.) This salad, however, breaks the pattern.

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It helps that the chickpeas can be dumped out of a can. Sometimes I buy pre-crumbled feta, and that’s one less ingredient that needs chopped. While I don’t love seeding and chopping olives, my handy dandy cherry pitter (that has never been used on cherries) speeds up that process.

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There are still a good handful of ingredients that must be prepped, to be sure, but it is among the quicker dinner salad recipes I make. And it’s such a great combination; chickpeas, olives, feta, and cucumbers are a classic, to be sure, but for good reason. For as good as this tastes and as quick as is to make, it’s one of the best salad values for your time. And that makes it my new favorite.

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One year ago: Cook’s Illustrated’s Ultimate Banana Bread
Two years ago: Cheesecake (comparison of 3 recipes)
Three years ago: Risotto with Swiss Chard
Four years ago: Gazpacho

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Mediterranean Chopped Salad (from Cook’s Illustrated)

Serves 4 as a main dish

I have never added the parsley; nothing against it, I just didn’t notice it in the ingredient list. Also, I like my salads on the vinegary side, so I usually cut the olive oil short.

1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into ½-inch dice (about 1¼ cups)
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered (about 1½ cups)
Table salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
½ small minced red onion (about ¼ cup)
½ cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
1 romaine heart, cut into ½ inch pieces (about 3 cups)
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)
Ground black pepper

1. Combine cucumber, tomatoes, and 1 teaspoon salt in colander set over bowl and let stand 15 minutes.

2. Whisk oil, vinegar, and garlic together in large bowl. Add drained cucumber and tomatoes, chickpeas, olives, onion, and parsley; toss and let stand at room temperature to blend flavors, 5 minutes.

3. Add romaine and feta; toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

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barbecue cowboy beans

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I feel like I should wait and do a comparison post with this recipe, because I have a friend who makes some seriously good cowboy beans. Hers are full of meat with a dominant sweet flavor. They’re always one of my favorite dishes on the potluck table.

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For my own version though, I wanted something lighter to serve as a side dish to barbecued ribs. When you’re spending hours cooking big slabs of meat, you don’t really need ground beef in your side dish. A few slices of bacon provide plenty of meaty depth, combined with sweet-bitter molasses and a slew of acidic ingredients like ketchup and beer.

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To be honest, I’m not sure what makes a pot of beans “cowboy” instead of just “baked.” A lot of recipes contain ground meat, but not all of them. This is the only one with spicy chiles. But honestly, I don’t much care. What matters most is that these are perfect along barbecued meat, and if I want a chile-less, meatier version, I can have that too.

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One year ago: Grilled Pita Breads
Two years ago: Whole Wheat Bagels
Three years ago: Amaretto Cheesecake
Four years ago: Blackberry Swirl Ice Cream

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Barbecue Cowboy Beans (adapted from Something Edible)

Serves 6

If you don’t want to buy two kinds of beans, feel free to choose one or the other.

I didn’t use the liquid smoke because I didn’t have any, so I can’t attest to how it affects the beans. I doubt adding smoky flavor would be a bad thing though.

6 ounces (about 1 cup) dry pinto beans, rinsed and sorted
2 ounces (about ⅓ cup) dry kidney beans
salt
6 slices (about 6 ounces) bacon, chopped
½ medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon allspice ground
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
¼ cup beer
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with chiles
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup molasses
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon hickory liquid smoke (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the beans and 1 teaspoon salt in a 5-quart Dutch oven; add enough water to cover the beans by 1½ inches. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat, then cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 75 minutes, until the beans are tender. Drain the beans. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

2. Add the bacon to the now-empty Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat until fat begins to render, 3-4 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic, allspice, coriander, black pepper, and mustard; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the beer and scrape the bottom of the pot to release the browned bits. Add the tomatoes and chiles with their juice, the ketchup, molasses, cider vinegar, liquid smoke (if using), and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

3. Cover and transfer the beans to the oven. Bake for 4 hours. Serve.

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quinoa black bean burrito bowls

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I know there’s nothing groundbreaking about this combination. Topping black beans and starch with lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese is always going to be good. Still, it’s worth talking about, just because it’s such a tasty meal, not to mention it has all of my other favorite dinner characteristics – it’s healthy, easy, and flexible.

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When I made this, I prepared the quinoa and black bean mixture over the weekend. The next night, when I knew I’d be getting home late, all I had to do was heat up the base and chop the toppings. Not that the first step takes long on its own, as it’s just sauteing onions with garlic and spices, adding liquid and quinoa to simmer, and stirring in black beans. But it’s nice to have meals that aren’t any worse for being made ahead and reheated.

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I’ve put these same toppings in tortillas with meat and beans, as well as over rice instead of quinoa, and it never fails to turn into a meal I love. Adding the fresh vegetables provides a bright, fresh contrast to the warm spicy beans and carbs. Classic flavors, combined in a slightly new way – it isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s one of my favorite new weeknight meals anyway.

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One year ago: Chocolate Friands
Two years ago: Baked French Toast
Three years ago: Potato Tomato Tart
Four years ago: Banana Nutella Crepes

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Quinoa Black Bean Burrito Bowls (adapted from Shiksa in the Kitchen via Prevention RD)

Serves 4

I also added about 4 ounces of Hatch green chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced, when I stirred in the lime juice.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
¼ teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 cup water
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
juice of ½ lime
toppings – shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, cilantro, cheddar cheese or queso fresco, diced avocado, salsa, sour cream or Greek yogurt, black olives

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is just browned at the edges, 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and chili powder and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the water, quinoa, and black beans; bring to a simmer, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer 15 minutes; without removing the lid, let the quinoa sit off the heat for an additional 10 minutes, until tender. Remove the lid, add the lime juice, and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Serve with your desired toppings.

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migas

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I’ve been raving about migas since the first time I made them, several months ago. They’re such a perfect breakfast for me that I’ve had them almost every weekend since. Somewhere along the way, after I talked my brother into making them, he pointed out that they’re basically just scrambled eggs.

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Which is true, and in a way, sums up what it is I love about them – their simplicity. Scrambled eggs is not a complicated breakfast, so that must mean that migas are also not a complicated breakfast. And beyond that, it’s healthy and filling and flexible.

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The recipe I’ve given here is one of my favorite ways to make it, and the simplest way I like it. First, I bake lightly oiled corn tortillas until browned. I tried frying them once, but since baking results in crisp tortillas every bit as good as those that are fried, but is healthier, I’m sticking with that. However, it’s not uncommon that I’ll use the crumbs at the bottom of the tortilla chip bag either, when they’re too small to dip in salsa but there’s too many to throw away.

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The other ingredients I consider crucial to migas are chiles and cheese. I use roasted and peeled Hatch green chiles, but any chile you like would be fine. I suspect that while beans are a common side, adding them to the migas themselves isn’t traditional, but the sweetness they add to the dish is too good to skip.

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In addition to these standards, I’ve also added chorizo (shown here), spaghetti squash, and random unlabeled spicy tomato stuff I found in the freezer (probably meant for this dish, but who can be sure). It’s not a dish that requires precision or even consistency. Every single time I’ve made it, it’s been different, but it always been delicious – and easy.

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One year ago: Greek Yogurt Dill Dip
Two years ago: Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad
Three years ago: White Cake (comparison of 3 recipes)
Four years ago: Danish Braids (for the Daring Bakers)

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Migas (adapted from Homesick Texan)

4 servings

When I add chorizo, I brown it before adding the cooking the onion, replacing the oil with the fat rendered from the sausage. When I’ve added pre-cooked leftover squash, I add it with the beans and tortillas.  I often add the salsa with the beans too, although the texture of the finished isn’t as firm as when it’s added as a garnish.

8 corn tortillas
8 eggs
salt
4 ounces chopped green chiles
1 tablespoon oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 (15-ounce) can black or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 ounces (½ cup) shredded cheddar, Monterey jack, or pepper jack
salsa
cilantro

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Arrange an oven-safe cooling rack on a baking sheet. Light spray both sides of the tortillas with nonstick spray; lay them in a single layer on the cooling rack and bake, flipping once, for 12-16 minutes, until browned and crisp. Break into bite-sizes pieces.

2. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, ¼ teaspoon salt, and green chiles with a whisk until large bubbles start to form around the edges of the bowl.

3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt; sauté, stirring occasionally, until just browned around the edges, 5-8 minutes. Pour in the egg mixture and cook without stirring for about a minute, then drag a spatula through the eggs a few times to lightly stir them. Let the eggs set for approximately 30 seconds, then stir again. Add the tortilla pieces, beans, and cheese. Cook and stir the eggs until set. Serve immediately, topping each portion with salsa and cilantro.

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lentil tacos

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While I loved these tacos, the real news here is that I’ve figured out how to soften corn tortillas without requiring a lot of fat or a lot of effort. I’m not saying they’re as good as fried tortillas, but in a healthy pinch, they’ll more than do. They still have the corny flavor I love and hold a generous scoop of gloppy filling, so I’m very pleased.

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I’ve started replacing flour tortillas with corn tortillas, at least for healthy weekday meals, saving the refined flour and partially hydrogenated fat-containing flour tortillas for weekend splurges. (And no, I do not want to make my own tortillas. Even I have limits, especially when the tortillas I can buy in New Mexico taste so good, partially hydrogenated fat notwithstanding.) Not only are they healthier, but they taste better. But I struggled for years with corn tortillas’ tendency to crack when folded, unless they were (deliciously) saturated with oil.

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I’d tried heating them on the grill, but they cracked as soon as they started to cool. I tried wrapping them in foil and heating them in the oven, but that didn’t solve the problem. I tried wrapping them in a damp cloth in a warm oven, which was an improvement, as the tortillas on the top and bottom of the stack were moist enough to fold without cracking, but those in the middle still broke.

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The trick, I’ve found, is to lay a damp dishtowel on a baking sheet, spread the tortillas over it in a single layer, then top with a second damp cloth. Heat the whole configuration in a warm oven while you make your filling. Then take the tortillas out of the oven, remove the top cloth, dollop on your chili-spiced lentils and some traditional-for-good-reason toppings, and dinner is easy, healthy, and delicious.

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One year ago: Brown Rice
Two years ago: Pizza with Figs, Prosciutto, Gorgonzola, Balsamic, and Arugula
Three years ago: Anadama Bread
Four years ago: Marshmallows

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Lentil Tacos (adapted from epicurious via Prevention RD)

Serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
½ teaspoon salt
2½ cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
10 taco-sized corn tortillas
toppings: cheese, avocado, salsa, tomato, lettuce

1. In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until just browned around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and spices; cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute, until fragrant. Add the lentils, salt, and broth; cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Uncover; simmer for 6-8 minutes, until mixture is thickened. Using a potato masher or wooden spoon, break up some of the lentils. Stir in the cilantro.

2. While the lentils cook, heat the oven to 275 degrees. Arrange a dampened dishtowel on a baking sheet. Spread the tortillas over the towel in a single layer (some overlap is expected), then top with a second dampened dishtowel. Heat in the oven for 10 minutes, until the tortillas are warm and soft.

3. Divide the filling and toppings evenly among the tortillas. Serve immediately.

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ultimate seven-layer dip

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Seven layer dip has become a holiday tradition in my family, and most of the work is usually assigned to a son-in-law. The rest of us have long-since fallen into a routine; my mom makes the turkey, my sister makes mashed potatoes, my brother makes stuffing, my dad is coerced into making the green bean casserole. For a long time, my mom asked my sister’s husband to make seven layer dip, but recently, that job has often gone to Dave.

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With a can of refried beans, sour cream, mayonnaise, cheese, and guacamole, it’s an irresistible treat best saved for holidays. When I saw Cook’s Illustrated’s version, I thought I might be able to lighten it up. This recipe uses canned black beans, pureed with seasonings, for the bean layer. The sour cream could easily be replaced with lower fat Greek yogurt. Chopped salsa-like vegetables added freshness.

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It creates a number of extra steps that result in this recipe being considerably more effort than Dave would be willing to exert – I think. Because it also resulted in a dip that Dave and I both raved about as we ate. Dave, vegetable lover that he is, loves the lighter, fresher taste. For me, the biggest difference was that every bite wasn’t full of guilt. That’s worth some extra effort.

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One year ago: Strawberry Daiquiri Ice Cream
Two years ago: Chicken Fajitas
Three years ago: Black Bean Squash Burritos
Four years ago: Lemon Cream Tart

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Ultimate Seven-Layer Dip (from America’s Test Kitchen Feed)

Serves 8 to 10

CI note: This recipe is usually served in a clear dish so you can see the layers. For a crowd, double the recipe and serve in a 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish. If you don’t have time to make fresh guacamole as called for, simply mash 3 avocados with 3 tablespoons lime juice and ½ teaspoon salt.

This is exactly the original recipe. I made just a few small changes: Greek yogurt for the sour cream, cheddar for the pepper Jack, and I made a simple guacamole as described in Cook’s Illustrated’s note, above.

4 large tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped fine
2 jalapeño chiles, seeded and minced
3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
6 scallions, 2 minced and 4 with green parts sliced thin (white parts discarded)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice plus 2 teaspoons, from 2 limes
¼ teaspoon salt
1 can black beans (16-ounces), drained but not rinsed
2 cloves minced garlic
¾ teaspoon chili powder
1½ cups sour cream
4 cups (16 ounces) shredded pepper Jack cheese
3 cups chunky guacamole
Tortilla chips for serving

1. Combine the tomatoes, jalapeños, cilantro, minced scallions, and 2 tablespoons lime juice in a medium bowl. Stir in ⅛ teaspoon salt and let stand until the tomatoes begin to soften, about 30 minutes. Strain the mixture into a bowl and discard the liquid.

2. Pulse the black beans, garlic, remaining lime juice, chili powder, and remaining salt in the food processor until it resembles a chunky paste. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out the food processor. Pulse the sour cream and 2½ cups (10 ounces) of the cheese until smooth. Transfer to a separate bowl.

3. Spread the bean mixture evenly over the bottom of an 8-inch square glass baking dish or 1-quart glass bowl. Spread the sour cream mixture evenly over the bean layer, and sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese. Spread the guacamole over the cheese and top with the tomato mixture. Sprinkle with the sliced scallions and serve with tortilla chips. (The dip can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. Let the dip stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.)

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black bean quinoa salad with tomatillo salsa

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A few weeks ago, I was skiing, and I was having fun, but I felt stale. I felt like I was doing the same things I always do when I ski, back and forth across the slope, not too fast, just nice and comfortable. After a morning of this, I was getting impatient with myself – why are you so timid, I asked myself? Go faster, mix it up, challenge yourself, get out of that comfort zone. So I did, and I fell, and I twisted my knees, had to sit in the lodge and read a book the next day while my friends skied, and I couldn’t run or progress in my weightlifting routine for three weeks (and counting*).

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My weeknight dinner routine has felt stale lately too. So many grain salads, so many beans. It seems like I always use quinoa the same way, in some sort of salad. And how many different ways can I possibly combine black beans, chiles, and avocadoes?

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On the other hand, maybe I’m in this rut because it works – it’s healthy, it’s fast, and it’s good. Sometimes it’s better to stick with what works. Quinoa salads work. Black beans and cilantro works. And avocado works on everything. This was one of the best meals I’ve made lately. Mixing it up is overrated.

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*Eventually, I decided that if resting wasn’t helping my knees heal, I might as well run. (Impeccable logic, right?) A couple runs in, my knees feel better than they have in weeks. Crossing my fingers to start weightlifting again this weekend!

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One year ago: Chocolate Frosting (comparison of 3 recipes)
Two years ago: Dorie Greenspan’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
Three years ago: Devil’s Food White Out Cake
Four years ago: Cream Cheese Brownies

Printer Friendly Recipe
Black Bean Quinoa Salad with Tomatillo Salsa (adapted slightly from Cate’s World Kitchen)

Serves 3-4

I substituted about 4 ounces of roasted peeled Hatch green chiles for one of the jalapenos.

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
salt
4 tomatillos, papery skins removed
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 jalapenos, stemmed and seeded
¾ cup cilantro, divided
juice of 1 lime
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 avocado, diced

1. In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring 1 cup water, ¼ teaspoon salt, and the quinoa to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and let sit, still covered, for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the broiler. Broil the tomatillos and garlic until the tomatillos are browned, 5-8 minutes. Peel the garlic; transfer it to a blender with the tomatillos, ½ teaspoon salt, jalapenos, and ½ cup cilantro. Puree.

3. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl. Stir in the lime juice. Once the quinoa cools to slightly warmer than room temperature, add the beans, tomatoes, avocado, remaining ¼ cup cilantro, and salsa. Serve.

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