summer vegetable gratin

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Can I talk about my garden some more? I’m sorry, I’m just really excited about it. I’m finding that I get nearly the same enjoyment from my vegetable garden as I do from cooking lately. I can’t stop myself from wandering between the beds, just looking at the plants; looking for new fruit growing, checking on whether anything is ripening, plucking weeds, crushing stinkbugs.

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I’m so proud that I grew half of the vegetables in this dish. Despite my hit or miss success with gardening, the tomatoes, zucchini, thyme, and basil in this dish all came from the backyard (or the basil would have if I’d remembered to use it).

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It’s one of those dishes that toes the line between being healthy and feeling indulgent. I brought it to a comfort food-themed potluck where I knew there would be a lot of (really delicious) cheesy baked pasta, hoping that a second helping of vegetable gratin would keep me from a third helping of macaroni and cheese. It didn’t work – I had both a second helping of gratin and a third helping of mac and cheese – but at least only my healthy-ish gratin leftovers came home with me. My favorite part of gardening is the part that involves eating, and this combination of summer vegetables and herbs is exactly why that is.

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Summer Vegetable Gratin (from Cook’s Illustrated)

6-8 servings

I didn’t use this much oil. I sprayed the pan with cooking spray instead of using a tablespoon of oil, and then I used less with the garlic, maybe just 1 tablespoon instead of three.

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound zucchini, ends trimmed and sliced crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices
1 pound summer squash (yellow), ends trimmed and sliced crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices
2 teaspoons table salt
1½ pounds ripe tomatoes (3 to 4 large), sliced ¼-inch thick
2 medium onions, halved lengthwise and sliced thin pole to pole (about 3 cups)
¾ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 large slice white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
2 medium shallots, minced (about ¼ cup)
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves

1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush a 13- by 9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon oil; set aside.

2. Toss the zucchini and summer squash slices with 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl; transfer to a colander set over a bowl. Let stand until the zucchini and squash release at least 3 tablespoons of liquid, about 45 minutes. Arrange the slices on a triple layer of paper towels; cover with another triple layer of paper towels. Firmly press each slice to remove as much liquid as possible.

3. Place the tomato slices in a single layer on a double layer of paper towels and sprinkle evenly with ½ teaspoon salt; let stand 30 minutes. Place a second double layer of paper towels on top of the tomatoes and press firmly to dry the tomatoes.

4. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and dark golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Set the onions aside.

5. Combine the garlic, 3 tablespoons oil, remaining ½ teaspoon pepper, and thyme in a small bowl. In a large bowl, toss the zucchini and summer squash in half of the oil mixture, then arrange in the greased baking dish. Arrange the caramelized onions in an even layer over the squash. Slightly overlap the tomato slices in a single layer on top of the onions. Spoon the remaining garlic-oil mixture evenly over the tomatoes. Bake until the vegetables are tender and the tomatoes are starting to brown on the edges, 40 to 45 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, process the bread in a food processor until finely ground, about 10 seconds. (You should have about 1 cup crumbs.) Combine the bread crumbs, remaining tablespoon oil, Parmesan, and shallots in a medium bowl. Remove the baking dish from the oven and increase the heat to 450 degrees. Sprinkle the bread-crumb mixture evenly on top of the tomatoes. Bake the gratin until bubbling and the cheese is lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the basil and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.

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goat cheese-stuffed mini peppers

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I’ve been lucky to have a lot of opportunities for tapas lately. It started, I believe, last year when Dave and I met my brother for a weekend in Los Angeles, and we shared an exceptional tapas meal. Since then, my brother is tapas-crazy.

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On our family’s recent trip to the beach, we collaborated to serve nine different tapas to eleven people (in a house with no dishwasher). Two weeks later, Dave and I had the opportunity to go tailgating in the parking lot of an opera house before seeing Carmen; tapas was the obvious choice again. Less than a week after that, a friend hosted a potluck dinner, and the theme she chose was tapas.

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These are among some of my favorite of the options at each dinner, with nods also going to gazpacho and anything with bread (obviously). There are so many bread-based snack options that I love offering something different, especially something with vegetables. But the vegetables are filled with cheese, so they can hold their own on a table filled with garlicky shrimp and things-on-bread. With this recipe in my pocket, I’m ready for many more tapas dinners.

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Goat Cheese-Stuffed Mini Peppers

Makes 24 appetizers

I don’t take the seeds or veins out of these when I make them. It hasn’t been a problem.

24 miniature sweet peppers
8 ounces soft goat cheese
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Pinch salt
Pinch black pepper

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut a 1 to 2-inch slit down the side of each pepper. Arrange the peppers in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, cut-side up. Roasted until softened and slightly browned, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. Meanwhile, mix the goat cheese, scallions, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a wide tip or a zip-top bag with a corner cut off. (I tried spooning the filling into the peppers once, and it didn’t work at all. Piping is definitely the way to go.)

3. Squeeze the goat cheese mixture into each pepper, widening the cut in the pepper if necessary. Serve at room temperature (can be made 2 days in advance).

meatball-stuffed zucchini

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I joke about not being good at gardening, but the truth is, it’s no joke. I am not good at it. Every year, at least half of what I plant is a failure. This year, in fact, in one raised bed, it’s exactly half, with two tomato plants and one pepper plant doing quite well, and two tomato plants and one pepper plant not doing much of anything at all.

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This year, I’m having more success with my zucchini plant than ever before. (Keeping with the theme, the beans in the same bed aren’t producing at all.) Maybe the disgusting and destructive squash bugs will move in eventually, but so far, so good. I get about three zucchinis each week, which has been just right for making old favorites like these enchiladas and this pasta, while also providing an opportunity to try a new favorite.

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This has become my go-to zucchini recipe this summer. I like it as a first course, maybe with a pasta dish served afterward, but it would work well as a main dish too. If things keep going well with my zucchini plant – and in my garden, that’s not a guarantee – I might just make this once a week until the season is over.

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Meatball-Stuffed Zucchini (adapted from Dominica Cooks and Cook’s Illustrated)

Makes 4-6 first course servings or 2 main course servings

I’ve used ground lamb for these (which is what the pictures show) because we love it, and I’ve used ground venison because someone gave us a bunch that we need to use up.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped with scissors in the can
salt
1 slice white sandwich bread (crusts discarded), torn into small cubes
¼ cup buttermilk or 3 tablespoons plain yogurt thinned with 1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
1 large egg yolk
pinch ground black pepper
½ pound ground beef or lamb
2 large or 3 small zucchini or summer squash, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped out and discarded

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Add the oil and 1 clove of garlic to an 8-by-8-inch (or equivalent size) baking dish; transfer to the oven until the garlic is sizzling, 5-8 minutes. Stir the tomatoes and a pinch of salt into the oil; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the bread and buttermilk or yogurt and milk; set aside for 10 minutes for the bread to soften. Stir in the cheese, parsley, egg yolk, remaining garlic, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper. Using your hands, evenly mix in the ground meat.

3. Divide the meat mixture evenly between the halved and cored zucchini. Arrange the stuffed zucchini in the baking dish. Transfer the dish to the oven and bake until the zucchini is softened and the meat is cooked through, 30-40 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes. To serve, spoon the tomato sauce over the zucchini and top with parmesan cheese.

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quinoa puttanesca

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Based on whether it leaves a bunch of half-used ingredients leftover, this may not be the best single-person dinner, but it’s one of my favorite meals for when Dave is out of town anyway. For years, Dave didn’t like anchovies or olives, so those were the things I ate when he traveled. He’s come around to both, but the tradition has stuck, and this has become a treat for myself while he’s gone.

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It’s very similar to the pasta version, but I like to think quinoa is a little healthier than pasta. Certainly, quinoa has a stronger, earthier flavor, which required adjustments in the other ingredients. More briny olives, more salty capers, and more bitter parsley were all necessary to stand out next to the quinoa.

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Even if it doesn’t fulfill my no-leftover-bits-of-ingredients rule for single-person dinners, it meets the rest of my criteria – easy, healthy, minimal dishes. Fortunately, I like it so much that I’m willing to make it twice in one week while Dave travels, which is the perfect way to use up the half cans of tomatoes and tuna leftover from one serving. That puts this back on the list of great meals for cooking for one.

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Quinoa Puttanesca (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Spaghetti Puttanesca)

4 servings

I use the higher amount of anchovies, because I love them, but I understand that not everyone shares that opinion. The tuna is not at all traditional in puttanesca, but it increases the protein of this one-pot dish.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6-8 anchovies, minced
8 ounces (1⅓ cups) quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, coarsely diced in the can with scissors
2 (5-ounce) cans solid white tuna in water, drained and flaked into bite-sized pieces (optional)
¼ cup capers, drained
1 cup kalamata olives, finely chopped
¼ cup minced parsley

In the medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic, and anchovies until sizzling and fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add the quinoa, tomatoes with their juice, and tuna (if using). Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Once the mixture simmers, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir once, then replace the cover, remove the pot from the heat, and let set for another 15 minutes. Stir in the capers, olives, and parsley; serve immediately.

pan-seared halibut in white wine sauce with green beans and tomato-scallion relish

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I have found the perfect single-person dinner. Not because it’s easy, although that’s nice. Not because it only uses one pan to cook, although I’m not complaining about less dishes to wash. Not because it tastes good, because of course it tastes good or why would I be talking about it?

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No, the key for bachelor(ette) meals is that they don’t leave you with half a can of tomatoes or beans, or half a cucumber or pepper, or the vast majority of a roast leftover. If you’re cooking for one, this recipe uses one fish filet, one tomato, one scallion, and a handful of green beans.

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Because I have been cooking for one a lot lately, while Dave travels for work, I’ve been making this dish often. The original recipe instructs that the green beans be steamed in a separate pot, but that seemed like a lot of hassle and dishes just for me, so I saute them quickly in a skillet, then add just a bit of water to cook them through. Any remnant green bean bits are scraped up with a glug of wine. I like to transfer the green beans to a pasta bowl and cover them with a big plate while the fish cooks in the same skillet. The fish gets laid over the green beans, the pan is deglazed with wine again, then a simple relish is heated briefly in the pan before it’s time to eat.

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I don’t know if fish served over green beans (although you could put yours on the side if that’s more your thing) sounds weird. The relish really brings everything together, since it’s so bright and flavorful, mixing perfectly with both the beans and the fish. It’s an easy, healthy, one-pan, delicious meal that won’t leave you with a bunch of half-used ingredients, and one of my newest favorites.

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Pan-Seared Halibut in White Wine Sauce with Haricots Verts and Tomato-Scallion Relish (adapted from Alfred Portale’s The Twelve Seasons Cookbook via epicurious)

4 servings

Regular green beans work just as well as haricots verts in this recipe. I’ve also successfully made it with both halibut and mahi-mahi. The pictures show mahi-mahi.

It’s easy to adapt for one person; just divide all of the ingredients by four and use a small skillet.

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
16 ounces haricots verts or green beans
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ cup water
6 tablespoons white wine, divided
4 halibut or mahi-mahi fillets, each approximately 1 inch thick
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 scallions, finely sliced
2 tablespoons capers, drained
4 small roma tomatoes, diced fine

1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the beans, 1 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are spotty brown, 4 minutes. Add the water, cover, and cook until the beans are bright green and still crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove the cover, increase the heat to high, and cook until the water evaporates, 30 to 60 seconds. Divide the beans between four plates or shallow bowls. Add 2 tablespoons of wine to the pan, swirling it around and scraping the pan with a rubber spatula to dissolve any stickiness on the bottom of the skillet. Transfer to liquid to the dishes with the green beans; cover set aside.

2. Season the halibut on both sides with salt and pepper. In the same skillet, heat the remaining 4 teaspoons of oil over medium-high heat. Cook the fish for about 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Flip the fish, reduce the heat to medium, and cook about 4 minutes longer, until the fish is opaque in the center and browned on both sides. Put the fish over the green beans in the bowl; cover again.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining 4 tablespoons wine and the lemon juice to the pan. Deglaze the pan by scraping up any browned bits with a rubber spatula. Stir in the butter. Add the scallions, capers, and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper if necessary, and pour over the fish in the bowls. Serve immediately.

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crab towers with gazpacho and avocado salsas

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I once made twenty of these in one night. I also made twenty tiny caramelized onion gruyere tarts, six baguettes, three types of sorbet, and smoked popcorn with bacon. (Not totally true: The baguettes and sorbet were made in advance, just served that night. Thank god.) My friend made Thai chicken slaw, twenty tiny shepherd’s pies, braised venison over mashed potatoes, and chocolate pudding cake. Each dish had its own wine paired with it. It was an epic party. (And the next day was an epic hangover.)

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It was, as you can probably imagine, a lot of work. Building twenty tiny stacks of three different mixtures actually went pretty fast; no, the truly tedious part is creating teeny tiny squares of vegetables. But making your food into confetti is so pretty, sometimes it’s worth it.

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And it isn’t all about looks. It’s about combining my favorite foods into one elegant salad – avocadoes and crab and gazpacho, neatly layered and colorful. And if you aren’t making twenty of them, as well as twenty each of several other small dishes, the mincing isn’t too bad.  You might not have an epic party in that case, but you’ll still have a dish worthy of one.

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Crab Towers with Avocado and Gazpacho Salsas (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Restaurant Favorites at Home)

Even when I’m making these for just a few people at home, I use Dixie cups with the bottoms cut off for the molds. You can make the gazpacho salsa a day in advance.

Makes 8

Gazpacho salsa:
1 cup grape tomatoes, minced
½ yellow pepper, minced
1 Persian or ½ regular cucumber, minced
1 small shallot, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch black pepper
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil

Crab salad:
1 pound crabmeat, shredded
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon mayonnaise

Avocado salsa:
2 large avocados, peeled, pitted, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, pepper, cucumbers, shallot, salt, pepper, sherry vinegar, and olive oil. In a separate medium bowl, combine the crab, vinegar, and mayonnaise. In a small bowl, combine the avocado, salt, and lemon juice, mashing very lightly so the mixture holds together.

2. Divide the avocado mixture between eight 2-inch molds. Divide the crab salad between the molds on top of the avocados, pressing lightly again. Top with the gazpacho salsa. Serve immediately.

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black bean burgers

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I actually don’t have any need for a black bean burger. Because Dave and I eat either vegetarian or fish during the week, I’m always ready for some meat by the weekend. And I don’t eat much bread on weekdays either (other than my daily bagel at work – best part of the workday!), so I wouldn’t pair vegetarian burgers with buns. But on top of slaw, now that works.

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This recipe doesn’t have (much of) my other issue with most vegetarian burgers, which is that they’re usually bound with large amounts of breadcrumbs or other grains, so you’re, in essence, putting carbs on a bun. This mix does have some bread crumbs, but it’s also bulked up with extra protein from cheese and nuts. They’re not there for your health though – they provide a nice variation in texture, so the burgers aren’t uniform, and they’re certainly not mushy, thanks to some time the beans spend in the oven getting dehydrated.

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The mix itself was so good that I couldn’t stop eating it. Formed into patties and browned, it was that much better. What isn’t better with crisp, caramelized sides? I’m sure they’re great on a bun with your favorite burger toppings, but I loved them on a simple lime-cilantro slaw. I have finally found a place for black bean burgers in my life, and I have found the black bean burger to take that place.

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Black Bean Burgers
(rewritten but hardly adapted from The Food Lab)

Makes 8 to 12 burgers (the patties in the pictures are each one-tenth of the recipe)

If your cashews aren’t toasted already, put them in the oven before the beans. Don’t do what I did and combine the two on one baking sheet; they’re treated separately in the food processor.

The recipe makes a lot. I formed the mixture into patties and froze most of them. They defrost and cook up perfectly.

According to the original recipe, you can grill these as well as pan-fry them, but I didn’t try it. You’d want to brush the sides with oil before grilling.

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large poblano pepper, finely chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, finely chopped, plus 1 teaspoon sauce
¾ cup toasted cashews
½ cup finely crumbled feta or cotija cheese
¾ cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 large egg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the black beans evenly on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until the edges are splitting, about 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, poblano, and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is just beginning to brown at the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the chipotle chile and sauce. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.

3. In a food process, pulse the cashews until the largest pieces are about ¼-inch. Transfer to the bowl with the vegetables. Transfer the dried black beans and cheese to the food processor and pulse until the largest pieces are about ¼-inch. Transfer to the bowl with the cashews. Add the bread crumbs, mayonnaise, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper to the mixing bowl. Stir until evenly combined.

4. Form the mixture into patties ¾-inch thick. You can make them any size you want; I made about ten patties from this recipe, and they were each about 4 inches in diameter.

5. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add half of the patties and cook, without moving, until crisp and browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Flip the patties and continue cooking until the second side is browned, another 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining patties.

Lime-Cilantro Slaw

½ cabbage, sliced thinly
¼ cup lime juice
½ cup Greek yogurt
4 green onions (or half of a small red onion), minced
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large or 2 small carrots, shredded
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Combine all ingredients.

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braised artichokes with creamy dipping sauce

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My sister’s kids aren’t particularly picky, but sometimes I push their limits without meaning to. Like the time I thought they’d get a kick out of eggs cooked in bacon toast cups, but instead they were like, Hey, now where does the jelly go? And at least that wasn’t a vegetable.

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I don’t even remember why I thought artichokes would be a good idea in the first place, but then when I started thinking about it, I got worried. They tend to turn a military shade of green once they’re cooked. I tried to get the kids excited about saying “okey dokey artichokey”, but I was pulling at strings and knew it.

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And then, oddly, they loved the artichokes. I think it was the number one rule of feeding children that worked in my favor – opportunities to dip. Plus, maybe, just maybe, I was right, and the fun of pulling off leaves and scraping the “meat” off with your teeth was more important than the brownish green shade of the vegetables. It certainly is for me, as this is one of my absolute favorite foods.

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Braised Artichokes with Creamy Dipping Sauce

Serves 3 to 6 as a first course, depending on how big your artichokes are and how big your appetite is

Trimming artichokes isn’t hard, but you might want to watch a youtube video or two if you’re not familiar with the process.

99% of artichoke recipes call for transferring the trimmed ‘chokes to a bowl of water with a lemon squeezed into it to keep them from browning. Not only does it not work, but they look and taste the same after cooking, so I’ve skipped this step. (But a recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated tested it and found it the lemon water worthwhile.)

If your artichokes are really big, you might need to use a 12-inch sauté pan instead of a Dutch oven to fit them in a single layer.

If you’re mayonnaise-adverse, crème fraiche would be a great substitute. Greek yogurt or sour cream would work if you stir it in off the heat so the dairy doesn’t curdle.

3 medium artichokes
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup water
½ cup white wine
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon parsley leaves, minced

1. Working with one artichoke at a time, cut off the top 2 inches of the artichoke. Working around the artichoke, use scissors to cut off the sharp tips of the leaves. Trim the base of the stem, then trim off the outside millimeter or so of the stem. Cut the artichoke in half from top to bottom and use a paring knife to cut out the sharp purple leaves and fuzzy choke from the center. Rinse the artichoke under running water to remove any remaining fuzz.

2. Heat the olive oil in a 5- or 6-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Arrange the artichokes cut-side down in the pot, overlapping the stems in the middle. Add the water, wine, pepper, and salt. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and braise artichokes until tender when pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes for small artichokes and 40 minutes for very large artichokes. (If you’re not ready to serve the artichokes right away, remove the pot from the heat and leave the cover on; the ‘chokes will stay hot for up to 30 minutes.)

3. Transfer artichoke halves to a serving platter or plates. There should about ⅓ cup liquid remaining in the pot; if there’s less, add water until there’s a total of ⅓ cup liquid; if there’s more, simmer the liquid to reduce it slightly. Add the mayonnaise and parsley to the liquid; whisk to combine and pour into individual dipping containers.

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spicy mexican beans and rice

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It’s been a long road since I shared something vaguely similar to this recipe, well over six years ago. At the time, I said that I had a goal to make more crockpot recipes. Since then, I have made exactly three crockpot recipes worth sharing, and one of those I’ve never made again. In general, I’m more into low-and-slow oven cooking than crockpotting. Heck, I recently even made “crockpot” pulled “pork” (it was venison; still delicious) in the oven.

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The long road of not-crockpotting has led me to adapt my old favorite crockpot recipe for the stove. The way the original recipe is written, with bone-in chicken thighs, the crockpot is a good choice. However, I always make this as an easy, healthy, vegetarian weeknight meal, leaving the chicken out. Why spend 10 hours, the whole day when I’m away for work, slow-cooking canned beans with some seasonings?

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So instead of adapting stovetop or oven recipes for the crockpot like most people do, I’ve adapted a crockpot recipe for the stove. I replaced the chicken soup mix with aromatics and spices, the chicken with a greater variety of beans, and the fresh tomatoes with canned tomatoes (in season year round!). It really isn’t any harder than the crockpot recipe was, and it tastes just as good.  With this new crockpot-less recipe, it might be time to retire my crockpot entirely.  Surely I can think of another fun new kitchen tool that I don’t really need to take up that cabinet space, right?

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Spicy Mexican Beans and Rice

8 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 large or 2 small to medium onions, diced
salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon oregano
½ cup green chile, roasted, peeled, and diced
2 chipotle chiles, minced
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14-ounce) diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
juice from 1 lime
6 cups cooked rice from 2 cups uncooked rice
cilantro, minced
optional toppings: queso fresco or cheddar cheese, diced avocado, Greek yogurt or sour cream

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown at the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and oregano; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the green chile, chipotle chiles, beans, tomatoes, and broth; cover, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and lightly simmer until the flavors are blended, at least 20 minutes or up to an hour if you aren’t in a hurry. If the mixture is too liquidy, remove the cover, increase the heat to medium, and simmer until the desired thickness is reached. Taste and add salt if necessary. Stir in the lime juice. Serve over rice, topped with cilantro and other toppings as desired.

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green chile chicken tacos

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Okay, so all my taco recipes are almost the same – I want avocado, and salty cheese, and fresh lime juice, cilantro, maybe some pickled onions, all mixed up in a fresh corn tortilla. Even with just those fixings and no meat, I’d probably be perfectly happy. But, I’ve been spoiled by barbacoa. Tacos are held to a higher standard now.

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My first couple attempts at chicken tacos weren’t up to par. I thought grilling sounded promising, but afterward, the chicken just tasted like chicken, with nothing more interesting to contribute. Plus it’s so easy for chicken to dry out on the grill.

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This recipe solves any problem of dry, bland chicken by braising chicken thighs directly in a sauce made from blistered tomatillos, onions, and green chiles. The chicken turns out tender and juicy, already tasting like it’s meant for tacos, and then the game is upped even more when the braising liquid is reduced to a sauce. I feel like I should say something about how this filling is so good that I don’t need all those tasty fixings, but no filling is good enough to pass up a slice of avocado in a corn tortilla.  Still, this is the next best thing to barbacoa.

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Green Chile Chicken Tacos (almost directly from Kenji Alt-Lopez at Serious Eats)

Serves 4 to 6

2 green chiles, preferably Hatch or Anaheim
2 medium tomatillos, husks removed, split in half
1 small yellow onion, peeled and split in half
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 limes
2 pounds chicken thighs (bone-in and skin-on)
1 small white onion, minced
16 to 24 warm corn tortillas
1 batch pickled red onions
½ cup grated queso cotija or jack cheese
1 avocado, sliced

1. Preheat the broiler to high and adjust the broiler rack to 5 to 6 inches below the heating element. Toss the peppers, tomatillos, yellow onion, and garlic in a medium bowl with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and broil until the vegetables are completely tender and charred on all sides, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes total. When cool enough to handle, peel the peppers and remove the stems and seeds. Transfer the vegetables to a food processor or blender with half of the cilantro and ½ teaspoon of salt; process on high speed until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons of lime juice from about 2 of the limes, season to taste with salt, and set aside.

2. While the vegetables broil, heat the remaining oil in a Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken pieces skin side-down and cook, without moving, until well browned, about 6 minutes. Flip and brown the second side, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate. Pour off the excess fat and deglaze the Dutch oven with 1 cup of water, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

3. Transfer the vegetable puree to the Dutch oven and stir with the deglazing water to combine. Nestle the chicken pieces into the sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, cover, and cook until the chicken is completely tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from sauce and place on a plate to cool.

4. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones and shred meat into bite-sized pieces. Return the meat to the sauce and bring to a simmer. Cook until thick and saucy, then season to taste with salt and pepper if desired.

5. Combine the white onion and remaining cilantro in a bowl. Serve chicken with warm tortillas, onion and cilantro mixture, pickled onions, cheese, and avocado.

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