Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Farro, Acorn Squash, Green Apple & Arugula Salad

Getting a satisfying “this is great!,” followed by “write down what you did and don’t change a thing,” (albeit from a rousing gallery of one) kind of solidifies that this particular plating will be a favorite in our nest for some time to come.

While I’d love to take all the credit for this dish, its inspiration comes from a recent night out. Reading recipes and trying new dishes at restaurants often serves to inspire the twists and turns I might take with a favored ingredient and a tried and true approach. This particular dish is a perfect example of doing just that... playing off the components of a salad enjoyed with our Seattleite daughter at Bar Cotto, one eatery among the several in Ethan Stowell’s culinary ménage; this one in Capitol Hill.

I happen to love farro for its nutty flavor and pleasing bite. (Plus it’s incredibly agreeable to a variety of flavors so it plates really nicely with a host of different characters.) While I traditionally take it down a more savory path, its pairing with acorn squash on the Bar Cotto menu was the selling point for our daughter… and it did not disappoint. As such, I committed the key ingredients… farro, acorn squash, green apple and pecans… to memory knowing that this dish would likely become a keeper.

My version includes arugula as I think this nutty little green gives a welcoming freshness to the warm and comforting notes that stand out in this salad. And, if you’re thinking of this as a main course option, I think the arugula lends a more developed composition. The acorn squash, roasted in my version, is subtly sweet. And… when mixed with still-warm farro it beautifully softens, lacing a whisper of sweet flavor throughout the salad. This subtle sweetness is more than pleasingly enhanced by a generous sprinkle of sugar-maple pecan halves and an awakening pop of sliced green onion…  a needed bite of yang to this salad’s comforting yen. And then, of course, there’s the fresh apple… a bright Granny Smith in my take. Bits of little matchstick cuts of apple lend a crisp, fresh component that marches along the same brightening path as the arugula and green onion in balancing the more subtle tones of the farro and squash. I truly don’t remember if there was a dressing on the Bar Cotto version but upon tasting my own rendition I believed it needed just a tad and the orange-maple-balsamic vinaigrette I whisked together does it perfect justice.
Though I don’t pretend to be well versed in vegan fare, I believe that with attentive sourcing (pure maple syrup and brown sugar that’s not laced with lard… surprising, but apparently possible), it would be a great vegan option. In this particular plating, we coupled it with a simply sautéed salmon. So good! I won’t change a thing.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Roasted Veggie Tacos with a Kale-Jicama Slaw

These might be some of the best tacos I've ever made... and I've made a few. The fact that they began as a full tilt quest for crispy taquitos... aka "a compromise"... and resulted in a little mea culpa (admitting that my way is not always the best way) is secondary.

First: the taquitos. They were delicious and very much enjoyed. However, the intent in making them the way they were made was very much a ploy on my part to have a crunchy, deep-fried taquito. Nothing really gets fried in my kitchen. So, I figured if I sold the filling… a heart-healthy mix of roasted sweet potato, broccoli and red onion tossed with protein-rich black beans… then I could roll it all in a corn tortilla and plunge it into hot oil with nary a sideways glance (aka "guilt"). And so I did. And… they were good.

I even made a leafy green kale and jicama slaw to side up to these crunchy rolls… another effort toward the healthy side of things… and it proved to be a perfect, fresh side. 

As I was contemplating a repeat of these tasty taquitos, using the leftover filling and a tweak of technique in the frying (as the filling was want to escape), I got to thinking of my husband’s favorite tacos, our efforts to try to eat as healthy and clean as possible, and a desire to not really want to partake in another fry.

Growing up firmly ensconced in the belief that most anything and everything tastes great in a tortilla, tacos from our kitchen are made with just about any leftovers we have. And the tortilla is never fried… or even baked. It’s just tinged over a hot flame (thanks to a gas stove). This no frying thing is really my husband’s preference and I’ve happily played along… until those taquitos. But I have to say that the taquitos reincarnation as tacos, with beautiful, flame-singed white corn tortillas and THAT slaw piled high over top could very well be my favorite taco to date. Mea culpa, this is what I should have made in the first place!

The filling of sweet potato, broccoli and red onion gets a little drizzle of olive oil and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper before heading to a 400 degree F. oven for an approximate 20-minute roast. Then it gets tossed with a can of black beans that have been rinsed and drained (pop rinsed beans onto a few paper towels to ensure they are good and dry before mixing with the roasted veggies). Add a little more salt and pepper to ensure a good flavor balance (your beans will need it) and your filling is done.

Then mix up your slaw: a few leaves of green kale, thinly sliced; a generous pop of crunchy jicama, also thinly sliced; and, a nice chop of fresh cilantro. The dressing is fresh orange juice, fresh lime juice, honey, red wine vinegar, and a little fruity olive oil. It just might be my favorite taco topping yet.

While I try to refrain from calling anything “the best,” these little heart healthy tacos certainly come close. So, so good and not a lick of frying (or dairy!) involved. Just humbly (and heart-healthy) good.