I am always surprised to find that there are still people out there who think that eating a vegetarian meal means leaving the table hungry. Haven’t the last 3 decades been about disproving that theory? Haven’t we moved beyond that by now?
When I began working at my current (part time) kitchen job, my co-workers, Luis, Gustavo and Gabriel, would often cook up a big staff lunch. Chicken chilaquiles, pork enchiladas, hot dogs, sauteed beef, often very spicy and always with plenty of cheese and sour cream, and a side of corn tortillas warmed on the grill, were some of the daily offerings. I usually took a bit of the decadence to go with the salad or sandwich I brought along. When asked why, I explained that eating a meal consisting solely of meat and starch didn’t feel healthy to me – I needed some greenery in there somewhere.
After several months of this, I decided it was only fair for me to make the boys lunch. Agonizing over what to make, I decided that obviously Mexican was out, as they would mock any inauthentic attempt. I don’t usually cook meat, so that was out, too. Finally I decided on penne tossed with feta cheese, onions, broccoli and pesto and a big salad. ‘Everyone likes those things,’ I thought confidently.
The boys sniffed around suspiciously as I brought a pot of water to boil, washed lettuce and mixed up a vinaigrette. I told them what was on the menu and Luis wrinkled his nose at the mention of pesto. ‘Do you even know what it is?’ I challenged. ‘No,’ he admitted, ‘but I don’t like it.’
I sighed, finished tossing the pasta and sat down to eat. Gustavo sweetly helped himself to a large plate and joined me in the dining room, devoured more food than I would imagine would fit in his four-foot-eleven frame, and even got up for seconds. Luis reluctantly took a little pasta, which he topped with queso fresco instead of feta, and reluctantly confessed to liking it, then cooked himself a hot dog in the kitchen saying, ‘You don’t feel healthy eating a meal without vegetables; I can’t eat a meal without meat.’
Despite many who assume the contrary, due perhaps to the bleeding-heart, animal-loving liberal look in my eyes, I am not a vegetarian (just really squeamish). Jay, on the other hand, made a bet with his first girlfriend when he was 18 to see which of them could go longer sans meat. (Er, not who would die first, just who could go longer without eating it.) Many years later, I dare say she may have finally won, as just last week I watched Jay devour an entire burger (albeit made from a cow brought up on the farm where we ate said burgers, and slathered in homemade basil aioli and grilled vegetables on homemade rosemary buns – totally unfair).
But at restaurants, Jay always orders the vegetarian option, and it amuses me no end to watch our server unfailingly plunk Jay’s dish in front of me, and the chicken or steak in front of my vegetarian sweetie.
I don’t eat a ton of meat; on the contrary, I try to eat as many vegetables as possible, especially when sweet corn, peppers and summer squash are in season. A boxful of veggies, including a paper bag of verdant tomatillos, inspired these enchiladas filled with tender, sweet vegetables, jack and goat cheeses, and slathered in tangy tomatillo-poblano salsa.
But I still wouldn’t serve them to my co-workers.
Summer Vegetable Enchiladas with Tomatillo-Poblano Salsa
Serve these enchiladas, 2 per person, with a side of pinto beans (recipe below), slivered lettuce or cabbage, avocado, creme fraiche or sour cream, diced or cherry tomatoes, extra salsa and a garnish of cilantro.
Makes 12 enchiladas, 6 servings
Makes about 3 cups
2 poblano chiles
1 pound (about 10 medium) tomatillos, husked
1/4 large yellow onion, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, washed, stems removed, a few leaves reserved for garnish
juice of 1 lime
3/4 teaspoon salt
Roast the poblanos either over an open flame or under the broiler (you can roast the bells peppers for the filling at the same time), turning occasionally until the skins are blackened and blistered all over, 5-10 minutes. Let sit until cool enough to handle, then, wearing gloves if your skin is sensitive to capsicum, peel off the skins. Slice the peppers in half and remove the veins and seeds. Chop the flesh coarsely.
Place the tomatillos in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 – 10 minutes, until the tomatillos turn a drab green. Drain and let cool slightly.
Combine the tomatillos in a food processor or blender with the poblanos (if the peppers are very spicy, you may not want to add all of them), onion, cilantro leaves, lime juice and salt. Puree until smooth. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, lime juice, or chile to taste. Set aside. The salsa will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Summer Vegetable Enchiladas
1/2 a large, yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound summer squash, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 red, orange or yellow bell peppers, roasted (see above), peeled, seeded and chopped
kernels from 2 ears of corn
1 bunch spinach, washed
6 ounces jack cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups packed)
4 ounces fresh chevre, crumbled
12 six-inch corn tortillas
1/4 cup vegetable oil (such as sunflower)
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until soft and golden, 10 minutes. Add the squash and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook another 10 minutes until soft and beginning to brown. Add the corn kernels and the peppers, and cook for three more minutes. Taste for salt, then tip the mixture into a large bowl. Wilt the spinach in the same skillet over medium heat, 2 minutes or so. Let cool slightly, then press out any excess water and chop. Add to the veggies in the bowl. When the veggie mixture has cooled to lukewarm, add 1 cup of the jack cheese and all of the chevre. Mix gently to combine.
Line a baking sheet with 2 layers of paper towels. In a clean skillet, heat a tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Add a tortilla and fry for a few seconds on each side, shake off the excess oil, and lay on the towel-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, adding oil as necessary, until all are fried. (Frying the tortillas makes them pliable and creates a barrier for the sauce, preventing the enchiladas from falling apart immediately.)
Preheat the oven to 375º with a rack in the center. Place 1/3-1/2 cup of the filling on the bottom third of a tortilla. Roll up tightly. Place seam-side down in the bottom of an ungreased 9×13″ lasagna pan. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Slather 2 cups of the salsa over the enchiladas.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of jack cheese over the top and bake for another 5 minutes to melt.
Let cool 5 – 10 minutes before serving with the extra salsa and whatever other accompaniments you like. The enchiladas are best served straight from the oven, but they can be stored, covered, in the fridge for up to several days and reheated before serving; they might fall apart a little, but they will still be tasty.
Pinto Beans with Epazote
There are many theories surrounding the reduction of beans’ gaseous qualities. To be safe, I follow all the rules: soaking the beans before cooking, cooking them with bay leaves and cumin, carrot and onion to absorb the gas-making properties (don’t know if this is true or not,) keeping the beans only partially covered while cooking to allow gassy things to escape (ditto) and adding the salt towards the end of the cooking to prevent the beans from getting tough. In the end, though, my own theory is that simply cooking the beans thoroughly will prevent any unpleasantries, so I make sure they beans are super soft, almost to the falling-apart stage, when I turn off the heat.
1 1/2 cup dried pintos
1/4 yellow onion
1 carrot, in large chunks
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried epazote
1/4 teaspoon cumin seed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Sort the beans for any pebbles, then place in a bowl and cover with 2 inches of cold water and allow to soak for 2 to (preferably) 8 hours or overnight. Drain. Place in a pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Add the onion, carrot, bay leaf, epazote and cumin seed. Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered, until mostly tender, adding more water if necessary. This can take anywhere from 1-2 hours. Add the salt and continue to cook until completely tender (I like to err on the side of overcooking, since undercooked beans are absolutely repulsive, akin to undercooked rice or the like. Bleh.) Pull out the carrot and onion pieces and the bay leaf. Let the beans cool in their liquid. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 months.