The joys of peruvian pepper sauce

March 23, 2008 at 7:40 pm (Dark leafy greens, Mexican & S. American, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, restaurant inspired, Sauce/dressing, Starches, unrated, Vegetable dishes)

ajiamarillo.gifI can’t recall if I’ve blogged about aji amarillo sauce before, but it’s worth a second mention in any case. This Peruvian sauce is simply a puree made from yellow aji peppers. It’s bright yellow, somewhat spicy, a little salty, and very flavorful. Actually, I’d describe it more as “piquant” than seriously spicy. The first time I had it was at La Feria in Pittsburgh. Although I enjoyed adding it to their various grain and cheese casseroles, and using it in place of butter as a spread for french bread, I was never really sure what to do with it at home. Then a few months ago Derek and I went to Madre, a tiny nouveau latin restaurant on the east side of Montreal. We weren’t all that excited about the experience (see our review), but there was one memorable dish with peruvian pepper sauce that Derek loved, and has been on my mind ever since: a duck “ceviche” with seared duck marinated in yellow pepper sauce, with onions, parsnip puree, and roasted corn kernels.

I finally found the yellow pepper sauce at the South American store on St. Laurent (and then later at the Mexican store behind Jean Talon market). The Mexican store also had the roasted salted corn kernels. Visiting Derek in Germany this week, I bought adorable French fingerling potatoes, fresh garlic, and a medium bag of spinach. I sliced five of the fingerling potatoes, and sauteed them in olive oil with a half of head of fresh garlic and a small red onion sliced into rings. Once the potatoes were almost soft I added about a 1/2 cup of yellow pepper sauce, and the spinach (leaves torn). After the spinach was wilted I sprinkled on some fresh thyme and a dusting of roasted corn kernels. I had meant to add mushrooms and white wine as well, in mimicry of the white wine and garlic saute from Kaya but forgot both. Even so, everyone really enjoyed the dish, even me! I couldn’t taste the thyme, and next time might try a more south american herb like cilantro. Also, I’d like to try using parsnips instead of potatoes. Either way, I’ll definitely be trying this type of recipe again, as well as looking for more opportunities to use this delicious yellow pepper sauce, even if I have to smuggle it into Germany from Montreal or the States.

Other ways I’ve eaten this sauce lately:

  • plain, as a dipping sauce for roasted brussels sprouts
  • mixed with yogurt and lemon juice as a dipping sauce for chickpea patties
  • as a flavorful addition to a sandwich, in place of mustard

If you have any other suggestions, please post a comment!

I’ve seen a large number of different brands of this pepper sauce: Goya, Dona Isabel, La Nuestra, various local Canadian brands.  If you can’t find it in the ethnic food section of a large grocery store, try to hunt down a South American store, or better yet a Peruvian or Bolivian store.  If you still can’t find the jarred aji amarillo pepper puree, here are instructions on how to make it yourself.

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A Craving for Baklava

March 19, 2008 at 11:32 am (Dessert, My brain, Other, Quick weeknight recipe, unrated)

I was never a huge fan of baklava, until I tried the baklava at Santorini in Chicago. I think I liked their baklava so much because they use a lot of high quality cinnamon, and I love cinnamon. Now, anyone who follow my blog knows that I am a lazy cook, too lazy to make real baklava. So when a baklava craving hit me yesterday, I whipped this very simple concoction up instead. Read the rest of this entry »

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Chili sin Carne al Mole

March 13, 2008 at 11:29 pm (Beans, Fall recipes, Isa C. Moskowitz, Seitan, unrated, Winter recipes)

I’m usually pretty loyal to my mom’s Texas Tofu Chili, but I was in the mood for chili and didn’t have any frozen tofu, so I decided to try this recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance. The introduction to this recipe provides a very precise description of the kind of chili they were going for: Rather than the bland, chunky, bean and vegetable stew that most vegetarians try to pass off as chili, they wanted “a dark red broth, large chunks of meat, accompanied only by a few bits of onions, chiles, and spices.” Now, that sounds like my kind of chili! Read the rest of this entry »

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Vegetarian Empanadas at Chilenita

March 2, 2008 at 4:52 pm (Restaurant review)

I am not an empanada connoisseur. Empanadas are more popular in South American than Mexico, so they’re not that common in Austin. Plus, traditional empanadas are rarely vegetarian. Before I came to Montreal the only time I can remember getting empanadas was in Pittsburgh, at the Peruvian restaurant La Feria. We tried their empanadas once or twice, but they never seemed worth the money or calories (although we did really like the sweet onion relish with which they were served). In Montreal, however, empanadas are more common. There is a small Chilean empanada place called Chilenita, that’s just a few blocks off my walk to work, and I have picked up an empanada for lunch quite a few times. Surprisingly, Chilenita offers five different vegetarian empanadas. When I go on weekdays they usually just have two of the five available, but I dropped by last weekend and they had all five, so I finally got to try them all.

My favorite is La Napolitana, which has green olives and artichokes, tomatoes, goat cheese and mozzarella. It’s a bit salty but very tasty and satisfying. The spinach and cheese empanada is okay, but a bit boring. The végé-champignon empanada includes mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, and corn. I thought it sounded dull, but I quite enjoyed it, especially the corn which was surprisngly flavorful. The végé-tofu version is similar, but the tofu doesn’t really add anything flavor or texture-wise; it’s pretty much just soft unseasoned tofu smushed up with the veggies. The last one is the Mediterranéenne empanada, which I didn’t care for because it has eggplant, my végé-nemesis. All the empanadas come with an excellent spicy red sauce. It’s not quite salsa, or hot sauce, but something in between. Whatever it is, it complements the empanadas perfectly, especially the edges which are somewhat dry. I always ask for extra sauce.

When Derek was in town he tried the La Napolitana empanada, but didn’t care for it. He referred to it as a “starch bomb,” I believe. Certainly, empanadas are carb-heavy, with all that dough, and the dough isn’t all that tasty by itself, but at least the it doesn’t taste extremely rich (although for all I know the dough might be made with tons of butter). Even so, if I eat one empanada for lunch I feel satisfied and alert afterwards, so they pass my after-lunch-coma test.

The Montreal blog Midnight Poutine has a quite lovely and very accurate set of photos documenting both the empanadas themselves and the very tiny but cute restaurant.

La Chilenita’s menu also includes burritos and other latin cuisine, but so far I’ve just stuck with the empanadas, as I’m always in a rush and the empanadas are grab and go.

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Vegan Cabbage Noodle Kugel

March 2, 2008 at 4:25 pm (C (2 stars, okay, edible), Cruciferous rich, Jewish, My brain, Pasta, Starches, Tofu)

I was trying to decide what to make for dinner last night, and my friend Katrina suggested a casserole. I said I never really make casseroles, and asked for ideas. She rattled off a bunch of recipe ideas from The Passionate Vegetarian, including a recipe for a cabbage, apple, sauerkraut, noodle casserole, seasoned with applesauce and paprika. It reminded me of a dish my college roommate’s Hungarian grandma used to make for us all the time: “cabbage noodles,” which were spiral noodles and sauteed cabbage and lots of oil and salt. They were simple, greasy, and delicious. The casserole also sounded reminiscent of a traditional noodle kugel.

I used to love my grandma’s noodle kugel when I was a kid. Many noodle kugels are sweet, with cinnamon and sugar and raisins, but my grandma’s recipe stood squarely in the savory camp. Her recipe called for 3 cups egg noodles, 1 cup full fat sour cream, 3 eggs, 3 ounces cream cheese, 1/2 cup cream, 2 Tbs. butter and 1/2 pound full fat cottage cheese, and just a Tablespoon of sugar and touch of salt. All that dairy fat made it rich and delicious, and the sour cream made is just a tad sour, which I loved. Sadly, her recipe, and most traditional noodle kugels, have few redeeming features from a nutritional standpoint. Not only would her recipe appall the the very-low-fat Dean Ornish types, and the no-carb Atkins types, but it would also be a no-no to the more modern low-animal-fat-and-white carbs (but lots of veggies) types. I think the only one who might approve is Michael Pollan, as most of the ingredients do seem like “food” (although I haven’t read his most recent book yet so I’m not positive that these ingredients would qualify). I’ve been wanting to experiment with Isa’s technique of using pureed silken tofu in place of eggs in baked dishes, and decided this was the perfect opportunity: I would try to create a savory vegan cabbage noodle kugel using tofu in places of the dairy and eggs.

  • 11 ounces of whole wheat fusilli
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 pound red onions (about 2 medium or one very large)
  • 1.5 pounds shredded savoy cabbage (about 10 cups)
  • salt (maybe 1 tsp? I forgot to measure)
  • 2 twelve ounce packages of dry-packed silken tofu (or 1.5 packages water-packed soft tofu)
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 Tbs. paprika
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, slice the onions (I did both the onions and cabbage using the slicing blade on my food processor, but I had to do the cabbage in two batches as it wouldn’t all fit at once.)
  2. Heat 2 Tbs. of oil in a large 12-inch skillet or large dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and saute until softened. While the onions are cooking shred your cabbage, and add it in to the skillet in batches, along with a 1/2 tsp. of salt. You want to cook the cabbage and onions until they start to carmelize. Use a little water from the pasta pot if the veggies start to burn or stick.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375. When the water comes to a boil, salt it and add the pasta. Cook until just al dente (remember that the noodles will cook more in the oven). Drain the pasta and add back to the large pot it was cooked in.
  4. While the cabbage and pasta cook, blend your tofu in a food processor, with the last Tbs. of oil, the cayenne, cinnamon, and paprika, and another 1/2 tsp. of salt.
  5. Add the cabbage and onions and the tofu puree with the noodles. Mix to combine. Pour the mixture into a 9×13 casserole pan, and bake for 40 minutes.

My Notes:

The kugel came out all right, but not great. It holds together pretty well, looks like noodle kugel, and the taste isn’t bad, but it’s a bit stinky from the cabbage. I was hoping that by carmelizing the cabbage and onions I’d avoid any sulfur odors, and bring out their sweet sides. It didn’t quite work. I think that a sweet version might be a better choice. The cabbage and onions already make it a little sweet, and the little bit of cinnamon I added reinforces the sweetness, but it’s not quite enough. Next time I would add the traditional raisins, use slightly less cabbage perhaps, and add some sweetener (and maybe copy Dragonwagon and add a bit of apples or applesauce as well). I added the paprika to give the pureed tofu more flavor, and to go with my Hungarian theme, but I suspect it just ended up muddying the flavors more than enhancing them. Next time I would just use more sweet spices like cinnamon.

The tofu didn’t work as well as I would like. In Isa’s potato omelette recipe the soy flavor is not detectable, and the tofu gets all puffy and egglike. That didn’t happen here, I’m not sure why. In the baked kugel the tofu has the texture and taste of raw blended tofu. Perhaps the tofu needs more room to expand, and my casserole was packed too tightly? I do think that the tofu was useful in helping the casserole hold together, and giving it a slight creaminess. However, next time I would try cutting back on the amount of tofu a bit, maybe try just 16 ounces, which would help reduce the soy flavor. Also, the kugel is not quite rich enough for my taste, so I would add another tablespoon of olive oil and possibly some nuts as well.

If you’re very efficient the prep work will take about 30 minutes, otherwise more like 45 minutes. There’s quite a bit of clean-up as well, as you’ll have a large pot, large skillet, strainer and food processor to wash. I recommend grating some extra cabbage in the food processor, as long as you’re dirtying it, and using it for another dish, perhaps cole slaw. (And that way you’ll get both the benefits of cooked and raw cabbage!)

Rating: B-

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