Thursday, April 29, 2010

Butternut Squash Burritos

I absolutely love Mexican food. Of all the ethnic cuisines we have available to us in this amazing city of ours, few have the ravenous loyalty and array of choices that Mexican has. Second maybe only to Chinese cuisine, there are more Mexican restaurants, taquerias, pupuserias, and taco trucks than any other one ethnic food in the city. Everyone has their favorite spot and their favorite dish, and will defend their favorite with rabid dedication.

Of all my favorite dishes on the classic Mexican food menu, the burrito stands atop the heap as a perfect mixture of all the best flavors of mexican cuisine rolled neatly into a tidy little bundle. Beans, rice, crispy vegetables, cool guacamole, slow-cooked meat, and spicy sauce all layered together in a perfect (and portable) roll of delciousness.

One of my new favorites in the exciting world of burrito-ology is of the vegetarian variety. Now, usually when you order a vegetarian burrito, what arrives is pretty uninspired.  A lukewarm heap of rice and beans, occasionally dressed up with an extra-large helping of guacamole and cheese.  Pretty boring, to say the least. But I recently stumbled upon a rather brilliant take on the vegetarian burrito, one chalk full of butternut squash, onions, avacado and the ubiquitous beans and rice.  After discovering this brilliant new rendition at Picante Taqueria in San Rafael, I knew it was something I had to try and re-create at home.  I gave it a go despite my wife's reservations, and here is what we came up with:

Butternut Squash Burritos

3-4 soft avacados (for the guacamole)
1 lime
A pinch or two of salt
1 medium red onion
1 medium butternut squash, seeds and outer skin removed, chopped into 3/4 inch cubes
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped into tiny bits
1 can of black beans, drained
1 cup of white rice
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
2-3 Tablespoons of Mexican seasoning paste (usually found in the cooler next to the bags of pre-washed salad.)
Cumin, paprika, chili powder to taste
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Your favorite melty cheese, shredded or grated.  No measurement here, use as much as your hear desires.
4 burrito-sized tortillas (we liked the spinach & herb variety)

Make the guacamole first to allow time for the flavors to combine.  Chop 1/2 of the red onion fine, add to a medium mixing bowl.  Add your avacado, broken up to allow for easier mashing.  Using a pastry cutter, mash up the avacado, combining it with the chopped onion until it has the consistency of, well guacamole.  Chunky or smooth is your choice, I prefer mine a little chunky.

Add half of the chopped cilantro and squeeze the juice of the lime into the guacamole, stirring to combine.  Set this aside while you get everything else ready to go.

Prepare the rice, boiling in 1 1/2 cups of water or vegetable broth until liquid is gone and rice is cooked through.  Add the Mexican spice paste and stir together, add more or less to taste.  In a separate pot or a bowl in the microwave, warm the black beans.  If you like it spicy, add a few dashes of hot sauce to the beans.

While the rice cooks, sautee the butternut squash and red onion.  Slice the other half of the onion into 1/4 inch ribbons and add to a hot sautee pan with a little canola oil.  As the onion becomes translucent, add the butternut squash and cover.  Allow the squash to cook until it is soft, and add a few squeezes of your Mexican seasoning paste.  About half way through the squash cooking, toss in your chopped jalapeño. Stir in a few dashes of cumin, paprika and chili powder, or any of your favorite spices or hot sauce, and taste as you go.  There really is no science to this, just season until it tastes right to you.

Now it's time to assemble.  I have a bad habit of over stuffing, but the basic idea is to layer your ingredients on top of one another.  When I see it done in taquerias, they usually pile the goods just off the center of the tortilla, probably so there is enough room to wrap all the way around.  Start with the beans, add the rice and then your butternut squash and onions.  Top with melty cheese (we used Monterey Jack), guacamole, and a little fresh cilantro.  Roll this beast up to the best of your abilities, and start enjoying your new favorite burrito.

This should make about 4 good sized burritos, but you might have some goodies left over for lunch the next day.  While the missus was skeptical this would work, I managed to win her over in the end.  Now we have a new recipe in our arsenal whenever butternut squash arrives in our CSA box, or for when I get a hankering for something different.  I hope you all enjoy this as much as we did.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Quinoa with Asparagus & Tabasco

As springtime slowly, very slowly, begins to break through the layers of clouds and rain and cold, it is time for us to put away the warm comfort foods of winter and get ready for the green flush of spring vegetables. While the roots and squashes of winter keep us warm and happy through the chilly months, I am always a little giddy when the weather starts to warm and we begin to see piles of vibrant green stuffed into our bi-weekly CSA box. And early spring means one favorite green thing in particular: Asparagus.

Since asparagus has such a short season, it is always a gift to get it fresh from the farm where it was grown. We have enjoyed asparagus in many, many different ways over the years here in the Tiny Kitchen, but thought we might mix it up a bit with a recent recipe from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks, a favorite go-to of ours for delicious and healthy meals.

We jumped onto the quinoa bandwagon sometime ago, (again, thanks Heidi) and after we discovered this filling, hearty and delicious grain, we have been preaching the gospel ever since. Quinoa is amazingly simple to prepare and can be paired with just about anything you would eat with rice or couscous, that is to say just about anything at all. For this recipe, the addition of the tabasco butter makes the quinoa creamy and stands apart nicely from the slightly bitter asparagus and earthiness of the pine nuts. I have shaved the ingredient measurements down a bit to fit making this dish for only two people; the orginal serves 6. When making the butter, add or subtract the tabasco and dijon mustard to suit your tastes, we like things a bit spicy here in the Tiny Kitchen so we my have been generous in our pours. Keep in mind the butter cuts the heat of the hot sauce nicely, so don't be afraid to add a few extra drops.

Quinoa with Asparagus & Tabasco


Tabasco Butter:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
15 - 20 drops of Tabasco
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of sea salt

1 bunch of asparagus, cut into 1 inch lengths
1/4 cup of pine nuts, slightly toasted over low heat
1/2 cup of red or white quinoa

To cook the quinoa, first rinse well through a very fine mesh strainer. Quinoa cooks at about a 1 to 3 ratio to water, so bring 1 1/2 cups of water or vegetable stock to a boil and add quinoa. Cover, lower heat, and allow to simmer for 15 - 20 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the little grains let out their little white tails.

To prepare the tabasco butter, add the butter, dijon mustard, lemon juice, salt and Tabasco sauce in a mixing bowl. While the original recipe calls to use a mixer, this is such a small amount of ingredients that was really just easier to do by hand. Using two forks, smash, whip and stir the ingredients together until the butter is soft and has been completely combined with the other ingredients. Stir about 2/3 of this into your waiting quinoa and set the rest aside to dollop a little into your bowl.

Finally, get a small pot of water going to a slow boil and add your asparagus pieces. Let them cook for no more than a minute, or minute and a half. Keep an eye out, they will begin to get even darker and more vibrantly green. Once the asparagus has cook for just a short time, pull them out with a spider or strainer and add them directly to your quinoa. Stir into the buttery quinoa along with the pine nuts and serve.

Quinoa is deceptively filling and incredibly nutricious; just a small bowl of this is all you really need for a complete, healthy dinner. This dish was a delightful way to celebrate the arrival of asparagus and, slowly but surely, the coming of spring. Thanks once again to Heidi at 101 Cookbooks for the great recipe, it is always a pleasure to see what she will think of next. Enoy!