As much as I enjoy teaching myself new things, sometimes, the best way to learn how to make something new, particularly a new type of cuisine, is to take a cooking class. It is unsurprisingly difficult to find vegetarian cooking classes (although many are willing to accommodate vegetarians) but I did manage to find an awesome one – a vegetarian Mexican cooking class. We ending up in groups of 4, and each group of us made 5 dishes total. I’m not going to go through all five recipes (sorry) but I will go through two of them – the cactus salad and the chocolate flan cake.
Nopales (aka cactus) Salad
2 thin cactus paddles
1⁄4 small red onion
1-2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
Juice of half a lime
Prepare the cactus paddles by cutting off the bottom bit, the edges, and scraping off the thorns (basically a similar action to peeling a carrot with a knife instead of a peeler). Once the cactus has been cleaned, slit the cactus pad a few times and then grill it for 10 minutes, five on each side. If you can’t grill it than baking would probably work, but I make no promises since I haven’t tried it. Chop the onion, tomato, cilantro, and cactus (once its done cooking) and toss with some salt, pepper, and lime juice. And done.
The Impossible Cake: The instructor called this dish the impossible cake because it is completely illogical and there is no way it should work properly – except somehow it does. It’s basically a steamed chocolate cake with a flan crust
First, you make the flan. Take 4 eggs, 1 egg yolk, 2 1/2 cups of milk, and 1 tsp of vanilla and blend it all together in a blender.
Then you make the cake batter. Cream together 6 ounces of butter and 1 cup of sugar, then beat in two eggs and 1 tablespoon of vanilla. To the wet ingredients, add 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/3 cup cocoa, a pinch salt, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 1/2 cup sour cream. Blend all the ingredients together until smooth.
Heat some sugar in a saucepan until it has lightly caramelized – do not overcook it. Add the caramelized sugar to the bottom of a circular cake pan. Pour the flan mixture on top of the sugar. Then pour the cake batter over the flan (yes it sounds insane, I know), distributing it as evenly as possible. Tightly cover the cake pan with aluminum foil and bake in a bain-marie by putting it into a larger oven-proof pan filled half way with boiling water (it should cover the cake pan half way too.) Carefully place in the oven and bake for about an hour. Then, let the cake cool for another hour, before inverting it on a serving dish (so the flan is on top) and serve.
The Nopales salad was yummy, and struck me as a perfect Mexican dish, as its the colors of Mexico’s flag. The only down side is that is doesn’t keep very well – after a while the cactus starts oozing goo – so eat it fresh. The cake was freaking amazing though. Good warm, good cold the next day, just addictively good. And the basic template probably has endless variations, if you want something similar but different. All in all, the meal was delicious, and the class was a ton of fun – definitely a good way to spend an evening. The song of the week is the Sam Tsui version of Pompeii – I’m not quite sure what it is about this song that makes me like it so much, but there you go.
As an American, I have few qualms bastardizing other countries’ cuisines or mashing separate ones together. We call it fusion. As a Californian (where much the food is some kind of fusion – its a side effect of diversity) I try to make that food as tasty as possible. This past weekend it was actually warm – legitimately above 60 degrees warm – so naturally I wanted warm weather food, aka Californian food. Actually, I wanted Mexican food, but I’d tried most of the recipes in my various cookbooks already. Naturally, the combination of flipping through the Greens cookbook and talking to my dad ended with a solution: mexican-style veggies on polenta.
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup polenta/cornmeal
Take the vegetable broth and bring it to a boil. Add the polenta. Boil until the cornmeal is all soft and cooked, and no longer grainy. Then pour it into an 8X8 pan and let it cool.
1/3 red bell pepper, chopped
1/3 onion, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
Shredded cheese (cheddar, Monterey jack, any Mexican cheese)
Saute the garlic in some olive oil. Add the onion and red pepper. After a couple minutes, add the zucchini. I’ve been told that adding zucchini to Mexican dishes is super Californian, but hey, California was a part of Mexico and zucchinis (and yellow squash) are native to Mexico. So I refuse to think of it as inauthentic. If you want to go further, corn is also native to the Americas, but I feel that’s stretching it a bit. Add salt, pepper, and cumin to taste and saute until the veggies are tender.
Once the veggies are done, pour them over the now-cooled polenta. On top of the veggies, scatter about 2 -3 ounces of grated cheese. I used cheddar, but monterey jack or a Mexican cheese such as queso fresco would also work. Bake the whole thing at 350 for 20-30 minutes, or until the cheese is all melted and bubbly. Top with salsa and serve.
The result was totally delicious. Simple and yummy and (this sounds silly) tastes like summer. Of course the corn works with the mex-veggies, and the time in the oven prevents anything from getting soggy. Zucchini often makes things soggy, so this is important. It is also a very complete meal in it of itself – although if you want to serve it with chips and salsa I completely support that. I served this with white wine, but generally Mexican food is best with a solid beer or tequila. My favorite is Bell’s Oberon Summer Wheat beer, but that doesn’t come out for another month sadly. Finally, the songs of the week are “Criminal” by Fiona Apple and “Smile” by Lily Allen. Awesome songs by female artists. Fiona Apple owns herself and her sexuality without being all “male-gaze” based – which is seriously impressive to pull off, especially in the music industry. Lily Allen has the most positive sounding songs with “holy shit, seriously?” lyrics. Honorable mention: “So What” by P!nk.