Saturday, December 8, 2012

Guest Post: Ceviche, Tortilla Soup, Tacos & Mango Salsa

 Colin doesn't always cook. But when he does, he does it for REAL.

A few weeks ago he made me a wonderously large and mexican meal from scratch that was UNREAL. I mean vegan ceviche? Incredible.

I've been bugging him since to blog about it and he finally did :)

Here is his post + accompanying pictures:

The time had come for me to flex my culinary muscles.  Every so often it's time to take the driver's seat and make sh*t happen in the kitchen, and just when I had lulled Taylor into a state of complacency where on some level she had to be doubting my ability to muster so much as a can of chili to nourish myself - I took my opportunity to pounce.

Sometimes I just wake up and get an urge to do something creative.  That's why I'm in the field I am in and that's what keeps things exciting for me.  Sometimes I build, sometimes I come up with ideas, sometimes I draw, and sometimes I cook.  For me cooking is at its best when it is a creative challenge, and when it involves an element of design and presentation - that is when a truly satisfying meal results.

My idea for this challenge was a multi-course vegan meal highlighting a particular food culture.  I came up with three ideas - Asian, Latin, and Northern European.  Latin won out because I was excited to take a stab at a vegan version of one of my favorite dishes - ceviche.

Ceviche is one of those near deal-breaker foods for me.  Deal breaker in the sense that I love it so much it could almost be that insurmountable obstacle preventing me from being vegan.  Almost.  But my experience with Taylor, and the broader Portland food scene, is that if there is a food you love and it doesn't adhere to your dietary restrictions, you re-vision it in a way that does.  And that is why I spent the better part of my day, on this particular Thursday, driving all around town in search of vegan scallops.

Ceviche is a simple dish in theory, that is impressively complex in execution.  At its essence chopped fish pieces, "cooked" in the acidity of lime juice, it is a dish that is so rich with flavor that any number of things could make it go wrong, and the best ceviche is probably the product of generations of tweaking a recipe and passing it down.  Probably every town from Baja to Argentina has their own spin on ceviche and each will claim it's the best.  Here's my vegan ceviche:

Bag of vegan scallops, cubed
Juice of 6-8 fresh limes
Diced bunch of cilantro
1/2 large white or yellow onion, roughly diced
1-2 Heirloom tomatoes, diced
Drizzle of Olive Oil
Splash of fresh squeezed orange juice
Pinch of Salt and Cracked black pepper

After cubing the scallops (larger pieces are nice when working with real scallops, but vegan scallops are a little harder so I recommend smaller pieces than even the ones depicted below) layer the cut pieces in a shallow bowl or Pyrex dish.  Add diced onions and toss.  Cover the tossed mixture with the juice of the limes.  Save a little bit (1/4 cup) for later.  Ensuring that the mixture is almost fully covered by the lime juice, refrigerate it for 3-6 hours.  The 3 hour limit is considered the minimum time for the acid to "cook" raw fish, however in this case it is simply about imparting the lime flavor into the vegan scallops.  Because of the nature of the medium, I think more than 3 hours would be desirable - in my case it was just all I had.  So whip up the concoction in the morning, let it marinade all day at work, and finish the ceviche for dinner.

To finish the ceviche, take the "cooked" scallops out of the fridge, and drain the lime juice.  There is no nasty by product with vegan ceviche so you don't have to be pedantic about it, you just want to get rid of most of the juice so the end product isn't over the top limey.  Add diced tomatoes, diced cilantro, splash of orange juice, drizzle of olive oil, and a splash of fresh lime juice (that you saved) to the mixture.  The orange juice may be the trick here because it imparts the desired citrus element but the natural sweetness of it will help cut the sharpness of the lime.  Toss the mixture thoroughly and salt and pepper to taste.  The result should be light and fresh and crisp and should look like this (below).  Serve with round tortilla chips, or more traditionally, with flat baked tortilla rounds.

Now, when I go to a Mexican restaurant, ceviche is always going to be part of my lineup, but rarely will it be the sole dish.  I wanted ceviche to be the appetizer in this meal, and the real stars to follow.  Next, I'll introduce you to my fresh mango salsa, a necessary part of the dishes to come.

I learned this simple salsa recipe on a sailing trip and it stuck with me ever since.  The relative strength or weakness of the dish is in the ratio of its ingredients.  Too much bell peppers and you have a meek and mild dish.  Too much mango and you have a fruit salad.  Overcook it and the flavors are shot and the consistency sucks.  You get the point - so I'll say that this batch turned out particularly well but you have to fine tune this recipe to your own tastes.

3 Heirloom tomatoes, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, diced
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, seeded, diced
3 jalapenos, seeded, minced
1 serrano, seeded, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 large mango, diced
Bunch of Cilantro, diced
Juice of 3-4 limes
Pinch of Salt and Pepper

In a medium to large pot, combine the bell peppers, jalapenos, serranos, and onion.  Add 3/4 of the lime juice and heat over medium-low.  Heat until steam and sporadic bubbling occurs.  If you heat it too long the whole thing will get frothy, and then you know you're sunk.  So after 5-10 minutes of heating, remove it from heat.  Add the tomatoes, cilantro, and mango, and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour (or until fully chilled).  Remove from fridge, and strain as much liquid as you can without *squeezing* it out of the salsa.  Add the remaining 1/4 of the lime juice as liquid.  Salt and pepper to taste and toss thoroughly.  The consistency is like pico de gallo that has been softened up ever so slightly by the cooking process.  It should look like this and will make an amazing topping for what's to come:

When I was in Phoenix this summer, I was in a wonderland of authentic Mexican cuisine - and it wasn't all carne this, carne that, either.  My hands down favorite dive in East Phoenix was La Condessa, and I may have single handedly kept them in business with the number of veggie street tacos I ate there.  So if you're wondering, yes, the next dish in the lineup is the famous La Condessa Veggie Taco, deconstructed and adapted by yours truly.

Package of small, organic corn tortillas, yellow or white
Bunch of fresh spinach
1-2 Poblano peppers, cut into strips, and seeded
1-2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
1/2 red onion, cut in strips
Fresh seasonal mushrooms, cut accordingly
2 TBSP Maggi Seasoning
Salt and pepper
Juice of 3 limes
1 large avocado
Olive oil

In a large pan or wok (cast iron best), heat olive oil.  Saute onions, mushrooms, poblano, and jalapeno over medium-high heat in a sauce of Maggi, lime, and oil.  When onions begin to look clear and mushrooms are browning, add spinach and rejuvenate the sauce as necessary.  After a couple minutes of cooking the spinach should be wilted and cooked.  Sprinkle with salt and cracked pepper, add a squirt of fresh lime juice, and serve over oven-warmed corn tortillas, street taco style.  Garnish with sliced avocado and top with mango salsa.

Finally, for the capstone to the meal - a comfort food dish that was bound to be a crowd pleaser on what was a particularly cold fall day - the Tortilla Soup, vegan style.  In the act of conceiving this culinary shock and awe campaign, I envisioned the Tortilla Soup as a light and delicate counterpart to the rest of the meal, where all the elements harmoniously hung in the balance... In actuality, when this dish rolled around I think we were both so full it was hard to even finish, not to mention that it was hearty enough to have been the sole course and no one would have complained.  But it was delicious.

1 can of "Cuban Style" Black beans
1 large can of crushed tomatoes
1 quart of vegetable broth
1 small can of fire roasted green chiles
1 or 2 ears of white sweet corn
Chopped chives or green onions
Fresh seasonal mushrooms, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 poblano, seeded and diced
1 heirloom tomato, diced
1 large avocado, cut in strips
Juice of 2 Limes
3 TBSP ground cumin
2 minced garlic cloves
4 or 5 corn tortillas, from tacos, cut into strips
1/2 package of Daiya cheese
Tofutti Sour Cream (optional)
Salt and Pepper

In a large soup pot, saute the onions and garlic in olive oil.  Add corn (stripped from cob with a knife), mushrooms, poblano, jalapeno and saute for another several minutes, stirring.  Preheat your oven to 400.

Add the wet ingredients - canned chiles, canned tomatoes & veggie broth.  Add the cumin and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir and simmer the mixture on low-medium heat for half an hour.  After oven has heated, add strips of tortilla, tossed in olive oil, to a baking sheet and bake until golden brown.  If you want you could dust these in chili powder pre-baking, or lime juice.  

Right before serving, mix in chopped heirloom tomatoes and canned beans, add a dollop of sour cream to each bowl (if desired), top with a sprinkling of Daiya and chopped onions, and sliced avocado for garnish.

*Sigh of Relief.*  If you read this whole post, you know as well as I do what an undertaking it was.  Unless you are unemployed with some serious time on your hands, or addicted to trucker pills, this is probably hard to pull off on a regular basis for dinner.  But, I knew, as I crammed spoonfuls of tortilla soup into my distended stomach, that although it may happen more rarely than a spotted owl mating with a snow leopard, I can still bring some game in the kitchen.

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