spicy

Crispy Cauliflower + Homemade Ranch

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As a vegetarian, I have no appetite for a food like chicken. However, I’m not crazy. I like food, and I enjoy the enticing smell of fried chicken. I get a little hungry when the Publix fried chicken commercial comes on [let’s be honest– it’s borderline food porn, which you can view here].

It’s tough to find a vegetarian alternative that really satisfies that craving for something crispy and salty and fatty. This cauliflower recipe certainly does the trick!

When it comes to frying foods, I have always been a huge fan of what my husband and I call SBP (aka Standard Breading Procedure). Anytime we decide to fry something it has always been SBP- dredge in flour, soak in egg, coat in bread crumbs or panko.

This recipe uses a different breading technique, one that leaves you with a crunchy, flaky, and deliciously crisp snack. It is even easier, requiring only two bowls and NO raw egg!

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I am also adding my recipe for homemade ranch. I always keep a large jar of this in my fridge, and it is really easy to make. It’s also MUCH creamier and fresh-flavored than bottled varieties of ranch.

Crispy Cauliflower + Homemade Ranch

Ingredients

for the cauliflower
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon each: garlic powder and paprika
1/4 teaspoon each: onion powder and turmeric
1 cup buttermilk
1 head of cauliflower
1 cup flour  (+1/4 teaspoon kosher salt)
vegetable oil

for the ranch
(makes about 1 cup of ranch dressing)
1/4 cup each: milk, sour cream, and mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon each: dried parsley, garlic powder, kosher salt, pepper, and Penzey’s mural of flavor*
1/8 teaspoon each: onion powder and dried dill

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To make the ranch dressing, whisk all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. You can store this in a large mason jar in the fridge. Feel free to adjust the ratios to your taste! I enjoy the herbal quality that Penzey’s mural of flavor spice blend adds, but it isn’t necessary if you don’t have it already in your kitchen!

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For the cauliflower, begin by mixing all the herbs and spices in a large bowl or gallon plastic bag.* Add the buttermilk in and stir thoroughly.

*I used a plastic bread bowl that my grandmother gave to me. It has a top on it, so it is perfect for battering veggies (and rising bread dough).

Next, wash and chop the cauliflower into bite-sized florets. Coat the florets in the buttermilk mixture. I put the lid on the bowl and shook it around, but you can accomplish this with your hands or a spatula. Be sure to generously coat each piece. Then, set this bowl aside, allowing the cauliflower to “marinate”.

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Prepare the oil in a small pot, about 2 inches deep, over medium heat.

In a second bowl, combine the flour with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Measure out 3 tablespoons of the buttermilk-spice mixture and blend it into the flour until it has a crumbly texture.

Take each, buttermilk-soaked floret and coat it generously in the crumbly flour mixture.

Test if the oil is ready by dropping a bit of batter into the pot. If it sputters and bubbles, it’s time to fry!

Fry the coated florets in batches, replenishing the oil as needed. Give each batch about five minutes to cook the cauliflower and get golden and crispy! Set them aside to cool and drain on a paper towel.

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Serve with ranch as an appetizer, snack, or side. Enjoy!

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Vegetarian Tamales

tamales

Tamales (pl.): masa-wrapped, cheesy-vegetable goodness cooked in a corn husk. The actual nomenclature is a hotly debated issue, but I will chalk it up to import error and just give y’all both terms! Spanish singular: tamal; English singular: tamale.

Tamales really are such a treat. They are often considered to be extremely difficult to make, but honestly, this recipe did not take us more than two hours. Many tamales have meat fillings, which require extensive cooking of their own, and that is what makes them so difficult. However, these vegetarian versions were easy enough that we even decided to make two varieties, which made eating them really fun!

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As a history buff, I can’t neglect the tamal’s incredible origins. This is such a cool food in that you can truly see its origins (even in the modern dish). Aztec and Mayan populations are known to have eaten tamales. You can imagine corn being picked and milled for flour, with the husks being saved for later use. Clearly, this dish is about utilizing every bit of a plant, and this was a great technique for doing so.

In ancient Mesoamerican cooking, a common technique for steaming involved digging a pit in the ground, lighting a fire, and covering the food with brush and leaves to let it slowly cook. Many people still use this technique today all across the globe, and there are tons of names for it: the New Zealand hangi, Samoan umu, Mayan pib, and the Peruvian huatia. Although today most of us will use a steamer or double boiler to cook tamales after they are wrapped, the ancient technique of using the corn husk remains.

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As a side note: if you are interested in global food connections, look up zongzi. These are essentially an ancient East Asian version of tamales, which use rice products instead of corn products!

 

Vegetarian Tamales

makes roughly 17-25 tamales, depending on the size of corn husk 

for the masa dough
2 sticks salted butter
4 cups masa harina
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons ground pequin chiles (alternatively: chile powder)
4 cups vegetable broth (pre-make if using bouillon cubes)

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for the fillings
1 zucchini
3 green onions
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 bunch cilantro
2 roma tomatoes
1/2 lime
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon pequin chile
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 poblano pepper
6 ounces queso fresco
kosher salt and pepper to taste

for assembly/cooking
corn husks
string
steamer/large colander

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First, place 20-30 corn husks in a large bowl filled with water. Weigh them down and let them soak for at least 30 minutes.

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Next, prepare the masa dough. Take the butter out to soften, and combine the masa farina, baking powder, salt, cumin, and chili powder in a large bowl. If you are using dried pequin chilis, you can use a coffee or spice grinder turn them into a powder. Personally, I prefer them because that have a more complex flavor and add a little bit more heat to the dough!

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When the butter is soft enough, mix it in with the dry ingredients to create a crumble. (You’ll probably need to use your hands!) Finally, slowly add in the vegetable broth until everything is combined.

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Next, prepare your fillings! Wash and chop the zucchini and green onions. Mince the garlic. Combine these in a pan with the olive oil and sauté for 3 minutes.

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After the zucchini has cooked a bit, add in the vegetable broth.

While the zucchini mixture is cooking, wash and chop a bunch of cilantro. I find it easiest to simply chop off the stems en masse and mince from there. Wash and chop the tomatoes, and squeeze the juice out of your 1/2 lime! Add the cilantro, tomatoes, and lime juice into the pan. Stir everything together, adding in the cumin and chili powder.

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After much of the liquid has cooked off (this might take a bit of patience), stir in the cheddar cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

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For the second, milder filling: simply chop the poblano pepper and queso fresco. Stir them together with salt and pepper to taste. I found this filling a great contrast to the heavier zucchini filling, and it was really nice to be able to have one of each with my meal.

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Now you are ready to assemble your tamales! For each one, you want to take a corn husk and spread some masa dough onto it. We found that it was easier to spread with fingers than a spoon.

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Be generous with the masa, as it will bake around the filling and keep it from spilling out.

Top the masa with a tablespoon or two of your desired filling.

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Next, carefully use the corn husk to wrap the filling in the masa dough. I will say that we did not start off using this technique (we just closed the corn husks like burritos). Making sure that the masa dough is actually encasing the filling will make your final product prettier, and yummier (in my opinion!). Cover the tamal with the husk and wrap it in string to keep it closed.

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At this point you can place the tamal in a colander or your steamer.

Continue this process with each tamale, until you run out of filling or masa!

 

1: Spread masa dough onto corn husk with hands.

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2: Add filling on top of masa dough.

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3: Wrap dough around filling.

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4: Fold in corn husk, however you prefer and tie with string.

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Place all of your wrapped tamales into a colander or steamer.

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If you have a steamer, steam them for 90 minutes. If you don’t, you can use this neat trick from Tasty Kitchen: put two quarts of water in a large pasta pot, over medium-high heat. Put the colander with the tamales in over the top (we got lucky and ours sealed perfectly!). If there is not a great seal, you can use tin foil to fix this. The tamales should not be touching the water. Cover the pot and steam for 90 minutes, checking every now and then to ensure your water hasn’t all boiled off.

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After 90 minutes, cut them open and enjoy!

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I later made a chile sauce to go on top, but they are delicious even without it!

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Vegetarian Jambalaya

 

Jambalaya

 

Readers,

For this recipe, I have asked my wonderful boyfriend, William, to write a guest post. He is the author of this vegetarian jambalaya. Always considerate of my dietary restrictions, he is constantly trying to find ways to adapt new dishes to a vegetarian diet. I am so incredibly grateful for his ability to allow my meatless lifestyle to rule our eating habits so often with such grace and selflessness. I hope you enjoy his healthier and much, much spicier take on this traditional, Cajun dish!

-Katie

 

This is my take on a southern classic- Jambalaya.  If you were to search ‘how to cook Jambalaya’, it is typically started with a sautee of meat and vegetables in a pan. Next, the rest of the dish is built around those ingredients (effectively making it meat centered). This recipe makes rice the star component of the dish and focuses on infusing the spices and flavors into each grain.  More importantly, I wanted to make it vegetarian friendly.  With that in mind, real meat can easily be added to this dish (be it shrimp, chicken, or sausage).

Two quick things before we get into the recipe and the ‘how to’. One: this dish is fairly simple, with most of your time being spent stirring the pot; and two: I made mine very spicy. So, if heat is a problem, tone down some of the ingredients, such as the cayenne pepper.

 

Vegetarian Jambalaya
1 whole, green bell pepper
1 cup white rice
8oz box Zatarain’s jambalaya mix
28oz can San Marzano tomatoes
32oz box vegetable broth
1/3 – 1/2  large sweet yellow onion
3 – 4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence
1 tablespoon cajun spice
Up to 3 teaspoons cayenne pepper (taste before adding, then add it 1 tsp at a time)
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
2 – 3 Tofurky andouille sausage links (or real meat if you want)

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The first step is to chop up your onion, pepper, and garlic cloves.

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Next, you’ll want to add them to a frying pan in the following order: onions, peppers, garlic. Give each addition roughly 2 – 3 minutes before the next (onions, 3 min; peppers, 3 min; garlic, 3 min).

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While the vegetable mixture is cooking, put your tomatoes in a large pot and then crush them by hand.

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When they are good and mashed, add in your rice, Zatarain’s mix, spices, and your vegetable mix. Let it cook for about 10 minutes with intermittent stirring.

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After the rice has stewed for about 10 minutes, then add in your milk and butter. This will tone down the heat a bit and give the jambalaya a creamier texture. Continue to cook this for another 15 – 20 minutes, again intermittently stirring.

JambalayaWhile the rice mixture is stewing, slice the sausage and cook it in the same pan that the vegetables were in, with some olive oil. This will infuse some of the flavors and give your sausage a nice, browned edge.

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After your rice is done stewing and your sausage is done cooking, mix them together for a delicious spicy, Cajun bite! If you like, you can sprinkle cilantro on top; it adds color and is a refreshing contrast to the spiciness of the jambalaya!