Favorite Things #1: Tortillas

23 06 2010

This is the beginning of a series of posts you will see from time to time. As a vegetarian, there are some things that make life easier and/or more enjoyable, and “Favorite Things” is an attempt to share such things.


I love me some tortillas! I love large, slightly doughy flour tortillas for burritos, and small, gritty corn tortillas for enchiladas and tacos. Good tortillas are hard to find in DC– particularly if you are trying to avoid partially hydrogenated oils (like we do in my household). The options are scarce, and they’re generally paper thin, they fall apart and are too dry.

Whole Foods has some okay ones – although they tend to stick together too much and rip when I pull them out. But they at least taste decent. The local co-op has local, organic ones, but they fall apart like bad moo shoo pancakes (and taste similarly like paper). I once attempted to make flour tortillas, and while they didn’t quite taste right, they functioned beautifully.

If you haven’t been able to tell, coming across quality, tasty tortillas has become somewhat of a minor (read: major) obsession of mine. And I’m proud to report that I now have a couple favorites to share!


LA TORTILLA FACTORY
Hand Made Style Corn Tortillas

This relatively new line of tortillas presents the most unique, and probably tastiest, corn tortillas I’ve ever had! They’re not traditional corn tortillas at all, because they’re a blend of white corn and wheat. They have a slightly milder corn taste and they are moister and more flexible. They make great enchiladas, quesadillas (as they crisp nicely on the outside when pan-frying), and could be baked slowly at a low temperature for delicious, home-baked tortilla chips.

LTF white corn tortillas

Around the DC area, they can be found at some Safeways. Apparently they can also be found at some Giants, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.


REYNA FOODS MEXICAN GROCER (Pittsburgh, PA)
Handmade Tortillas

During my first trip to Pittsburgh (only a matter of months ago) I was taken to the Strip District. It’s a cute area along one of the rivers offering a great selection of specialty markets. After some breakfast and walking around, we were about to head back to the car and I spotted Reyna Foods. Because of my long-time search for good tortillas I thought, ‘let’s take a look – who knows, they might have a good selection of tortillas.’ To my dismay, their selection was not huge. However, they were full in stock of 3-4 types of homemade tortillas that I could see them making on a large contraption in the back. They looked amazing! I picked up a pack, gave it a gentle squeeze and sniffed through the plastic as I read the sign explaining that these were homemade with no preservatives and that they’d only last about 10 days.

I grabbed a pack of the garlic tortillas to take home and test. On the ride back to DC from Pittsburgh I kept thinking about them, occasionally getting a whiff of the garlicky aroma. After about an hour of torture, even though I was still stuffed from breakfast, I broke down and tore open the pack. With one bite, I immediately transcended to tortilla heaven! So delicious, they were a joy to bite into. I went back 2 weeks later for work and stopped by to try the corn, flour, and chipotle varietals. They were all just as satisfying. I have to head to Pittsburgh every few months for work and will most certainly ALWAYS make time to stock up on tortillas from Reyna’s.

Just a note, they did have a refrigerator containing tortillas made with preservatives that would last longer, but with me around, expiration dates on good tortillas are irrelevant – so why get the unnecessary preservatives?

Check out Reyna Foods on yelp.com by visiting the link below. As you’ll see in the reviews, I’m not the only person raving about their homemade tortillas!
http://www.yelp.com/biz/reyna-foods-pittsburgh?q=tortilla


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The Perfect Hummus Recipe

14 06 2010

The thing about hummus is that there are almost as many ways to make hummus as there are to spell it. But this is the version I will most humbly call “the perfect hummus recipe.” It’s a little backwards in the order of steps (compared to most recipes I’ve come across). But it works well in a large blender (for those of you who don’t have a super large food processor) and comes out just as creamy and thick as any other hummus I’ve had. I’ve also played around with proportions of the various ingredients A LOT, and this is my favorite combination.

the perfect hummus


Ingredients:

•6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
•8 Tbs tahini
•10 1/2 Tbs lemon juice
•16 oz can of chickpeas
•5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
•2 1/2 tsp ground cumin
•salt
•ground black pepper


Directions:

1. Combine garlic, tahini and lemon juice in blender. Blend until thoroughly combined and relatively smooth.
2. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the liquid. Add the chickpeas and a tablespoon of liquid to the blender. Blend until smooth. Use a spatula to ensure chunks from the top make it to the bottom. If it is too thick, gradually add more of the liquid until it is smooth.
3. With the blender running (it should be okay to remove the lid at this point), gradually add the olive oil.
4. Add the cumin and salt and pepper to taste. Blend until well incorporated.
5. Put hummus in an airtight container, or cover in a bowl with plastic wrap, and chill until ready to serve (at least 1 hour or up to 1 day).


Recommended Serving Instructions:

Enjoy this dish with fresh raw vegetables, pan-fried zucchini, or baked pita chips. Use as a base for a Mediterranean wrap. Add flavor and depth to your favorite sandwich.


Tips:

•I recommend starting with this recipe and then tweaking on later batches. One thing it took me a while to learn is to DOCUMENT what you try each time. I made a few repeat mistakes and forgot amazing combinations because I didn’t keep close track of exactly how much I was adding of what.
•Use this recipe as a template. Like roasted red pepper hummus? Something spicier? Roasted garlic? Add your favorite flavor-enhancers and color-adders to this recipe. Just keep in mind that if it’s something more liquid, you will likely want to scale back on chickpea water. Or if it’s a thickening agent, you may want to add more.
•Have some old pita bread sitting around? Pull the pita apart into 2 thin halves and cut into small triangles. Bake in a single layer at about 200ºF for about 20-30 minutes. This is a great way to get rid of your almost-stale pita bread and a cheaper, healthier alternative to store-bought pita chips. You can also lightly brush the pita with olive oil and season with your favorite spices for something a little more impressive. I personally like a little garlic, sea salt, ground pepper and poppy seeds.






Soup’s on!

10 06 2010

So I have this strange tendency to crave soup during the hot days of summer. And as we’re getting close to that time, I figured I’d share my 2 favorite recipes.

Both of these recipes come from one of my favorite websites, Brokeass Gourmet. While not a vegetarian blog, per se, it is a collection of recipes that are often vegetarian or vegan, as well as innovative, relatively easy to make and, most importantly, inexpensive. If you like these recipes or want other gourmet recipes that won’t break the bank, be sure to visit http://brokeassgourmet.com today!


PEA SOUP WITH SCALLIONS, PARMESAN AND BASIL

pea soup from brokeassgourmet.comKnowing that not everyone has the same preference for a bowl of piping hot, hearty soup in the middle of summer, I thought I’d start with one that can be served chilled, actually making sense to serve during summer. With the crisp basil (from your overgrown basil plant?), sweetness of the peas, and saltiness from the parmesan, you will find this soup light and refreshing.

I do, however, enjoy this soup hot, served with garlic crostini and a light dusting of fresh ground black pepper.

For the full recipe, click here.


GINGER PEANUT SOUP

ginger peanut soup from brokeassgourmet.comThis soup is a hearty, flavorful and spicy dish that’s easy to make and even easier to eat!

First of all, I recommend filling it to the brim with your favorite vegetables; personally, I use more broccoli and add some onion and red bell pepper.

Secondly, when you have a cold, make this recipe and double the ginger, garlic, and cayenne pepper. Your cleared sinuses will thank you! :)

For the full recipe, click here.


All photos have been borrowed from Brokeass Gourmet with their permission.






I Relish Black Beans and Roasted Corn

3 06 2010

Sorry, sometimes I just can’t pass up a good (or bad) pun!

This black bean and roasted corn relish will help get you through those meat-centric summer BBQs! Use it to spice up your veggie burger, bring it as a healthy and flavorful side salad or just serve it with some corn chips.


Ingredients:

•extra virgin olive oil
•28 oz black beans, rinsed and drained
•2 tsp garlic powder
•2 Tbs ground cumin
•cayenne pepper (to taste)
•2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
•4 cloves garlic, minced
•1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
•1/2 small green bell pepper, finely chopped
•juice of 1 lime
•2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
•salt
•ground black pepper


Directions:

1. Heat about 1 Tbs of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.
2. Add beans, garlic powder, 1 Tbs of cumin and cayenne pepper to taste (I use about 1/2 tsp). Heat until thoroughly warmed and beans just start to soften (about 5 minutes). Chill.
3. Heat about 2 tsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add thawed corn and remaining cumin. Heat until cooked thoroughly and some edges begin to turn dark. Chill.
4. After beans and corn have thoroughly chilled (about 30-45 minutes), combine together and add garlic, onion, pepper, lime juice and vinegar. Season with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper.
5. Gently mix, seal and chill for at least 45 minutes.


Recommended Serving Instructions:

Serve as a light side dish to any meal, with chips as a party dip, or over greens as a summery salad (no dressing needed). But my favorite use of this is to spruce up those veggie burger/fake chicken sandwiches you are left eating at summer BBQs! This one has avocado, a chik patty, monterey jack cheese, the black bean and roasted corn relish and baby spinach.


Tips:

•If you want your corn a little drier and crunchier, thoroughly squeeze kernels in a fine strainer or paper towel to remove some moisture before cooking.
•I use frozen organic sweet yellow corn for this dish. However, feel free to take this out to the grill! Just by fresh corn, season with the same seasonings and roast over a grill. After it is slightly charred, remove from the grill and chill fully. Once chilled, slice kernels off of cob.
•Make sure you thoroughly chill the beans before mixing with the other ingredients – particularly if you maybe overcooked them some. This will ensure they better keep their shape and you can avoid having a mushy (good-tasting) mess!