Friday, April 29, 2011

tex-mex migas

I wish I could tell you a colorful tale about how I first discovered migas, but I'd have to make something up! Unfortunately, I've never been to Austin, Texas, where migas is a beloved and ubiquitous breakfast item, and I haven't seen it cooked by anyone but me. I don't remember how I first heard of it, but I've had it in the back of my mind to try for years. Now that I have, I can tell you it's a simple and delectable egg dish and I thought you might like to try it too (if you haven't already).

Migas starts out as pretty ordinary scrambled eggs with onions, peppers, tomatoes, and cheese, but the addition of fresh corn tortillas and cilantro sets it apart. The crisped tortillas become softened as they meld to the eggs and lend an irresistible toasted corn flavor. Fresh chopped cilantro, one of my favorite herbs, ties everything together.

Presumably, migas was devised as a thrifty way to use up stale tortillas, and I, for one, am pleased to have a use for them. Who knows; you may find yourself buying fresh ones specifically for this dish. Although the tortillas are usually cut into strips and fried in oil, I chose to toast them whole in the oven and tear them into rough pieces before adding them to the eggs.

The quantities below are obviously easily adapted to individual tastes. I like a lot of "stuff" in my eggs, and I wasn't shy with the tortillas either.

Migas is typically served with refried beans.

Tex-Mex Migas

1 small onion, diced
2/3 cup diced bell pepper
1 - 2 jalapenos, to taste, minced
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
6 eggs
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a large pinch
freshly ground pepper to taste
4 fresh corn tortillas
4 ounces cheddar or monterey jack cheese, shredded
about 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Brush tortillas evenly with oil on both sides; place on sheet pan. Bake until tortillas are lightly toasted but still pliable, about 7 minutes, flipping them over about halfway through. Remove from oven and salt lightly. Set aside.

Beat eggs, 1/8 teaspoon salt and pepper until well combined. Set aside.

Tear tortillas into bite sized pieces. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add onions and saute until beginning to soften. Add bell pepper and jalapenos and cook a few minutes more, until onions and peppers are mostly cooked. Add tomatoes and season the vegetables with a large pinch of salt. When tomatoes are warmed through and beginning to soften, add eggs and tortillas.

Reduce heat to medium. Stir and fold eggs gently with a spatula while they cook; do not brown eggs or try to rush them. When the eggs are almost done to your liking, add the cheese and the cilantro. Continue to stir and fold gently until the eggs are done. Check seasoning and serve.

Serves 2 to 3

Friday, April 22, 2011

blueberry clafoutis

So, was anyone else a little over-zealous in their blueberry picking last summer, only to find that their freezer runneth over now, in April? It's hard to fathom having too much of such a good thing, but yesterday I discovered the last of my hard-earned berries teetering perilously close to freezer burn. I had to use them ASAP, but I wasn't in the mood for muffins, or pancakes, or scones, and the idea of throwing them into a smoothie seemed like sacrilege.

That's when I thought of clafoutis.

Clafoutis (kla-foo-tee), a rustic fruit dessert originated in central France, is usually described as a cross between a custard and a cake. Authentic clafoutis is made with cherries, but it adapts well to other fruits such as prunes, plums, berries and pears. I haven't baked clafoutis for many years, so I scoured my cookbooks and the internet to compare recipes. In the end, I avoided the more embellished iterations and settled on an appropriately simple one by Christopher Kimball that I tweaked only slightly. First, since I got it in my head I wanted a breakfast clafoutis, I reduced the sugar slightly (to 1/4 cup) with good results. If you're serving the clafoutis for dessert or your berries are on the tart side, I would use 1/3 cup sugar, as written. Also, I added a smidgen of almond extract and some lemon zest to complement the berries. Finally, I simplified things by mixing the batter in a blender, as is often done with clafoutis.

While the frozen berries seemed to work fine in this recipe, I'm sure fresh would be even better if you're willing to hold off a few months!

If you're a custard lover and appreciate uncomplicated fruit desserts, chances are good you'll like clafoutis.

Blueberry Clafoutis

1 teaspoon butter
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
12 ounces blueberries (about 1 pint)
3 eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
confectioner's sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 inch round cake or pie pan with butter; dust bottom and sides with 1 tablespoon sugar.

Place blueberries in an even layer in bottom of pan.

Combine eggs, milk, sugar, flour, salt, vanilla, almond extract and lemon zest in blender; process until smooth.

Carefully and slowly pour batter over blueberries in pan. Try not to disrupt the berries too much.

Bake 40 - 50 minutes, or until clafoutis is puffed, golden brown and firm to the touch.

Allow to cool 15 - 20 minutes (clafoutis will deflate and firm up as it sits, making it much easier to slice cleanly). Dust the top with confectioner's sugar and serve warm.

Serves 6

(Recipe adapted from Christopher Kimball, Milford Daily News; August 5, 2003)


*If you'd rather skip the almond extract and lemon zest, use 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla; or, at least use the lemon zest - it's really good.

*Don't even try to slice the clafoutis before it has had a chance to settle; you'll end up with a gloppy mess!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

cauliflower gratin with tomatoes and feta

Cauliflower is one of those vegetables people seem to love or to loathe. As with other commonly maligned vegetables, I suspect the trauma of having to eat poorly prepared cauliflower in childhood is to blame.

Even if you like cauliflower, you may find yourself growing bored with your usual preparations and wishing for a new approach. That was the case for me years ago when I first discovered the following recipe in Deborah Madison's encyclopedic Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

This recipe makes the most of an admittedly bland but highly nutritious vegetable. Compared to more common gratins which drip with white sauce and cheese, this is much lighter but highly flavored with tomatoes, capers and pleasing chunks of feta. It's not only great hot from the oven, but I find myself snacking on cold leftovers the next day as well. It's also wonderful tossed over pasta with a drizzle of good olive oil and a dusting of freshly grated sharp cheese.

Don't be tempted to leave out the small dose of honey; as the author claims, it really does balance out the acid of the tomatoes and capers to achieve a perfect tang.

I do, however, prefer to skip the cinnamon. If you tend to like cinnamon in tomato sauces or other savory dishes, by all means leave it in!

Hopefully, even avowed skeptics will find new respect for cauliflower once they sample this gratin.

Cauliflower Gratin with Tomatoes and Feta

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced or 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon capers
salt and freshly milled pepper
1 large cauliflower, about 1 1/2 pounds, broken into florets
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 to 4 ounces crumbled feta
finely chopped parsley

Preheat the broiler and lightly oil a 2 quart gratin dish.

Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, oregano, and cinnamon and cook until the onion is wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cook for 7 minutes more, then add the honey and capers and season with salt and pepper. Slide the mixture into the dish.

Meanwhile, steam the cauliflower for 5 minutes. Set it on top of the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top and add the feta. Place 5 to 6 inches under the broiler until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Garnish with the parsley and serve. (If you are assembling the gratin ahead of time, cover and bake it at 400 degrees F until bubbling, about 20 minutes, then brown under the broiler.)

Serves 4


I suggest dabbing a little sauce over the top of the cauliflower (rather than placing it all underneath) so it's not monochromatic coming out of the oven.

This is a great cookbook for new veggie ideas:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

baked falafel burgers with tzatziki

For those of you who may have missed it, there was an interesting article in The New York Times last week lauding the resurgence of house-made veggie burgers on restaurant menus across the city.

Besides being cheered by this news, the article led me to reminisce about the first and last homemade veggie burger I ever made, when I was in high school in the 70's and a devoted vegetarian. I clearly recall finding the recipe for "soybean patties" in the New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook. I'm sure I made a special trip to the health food store for soybeans in my mother's wood-paneled station wagon. I can imagine the car's vinyl upholstery fumes intermingled with Herbal Essence wafting from my hair. I see myself entering the store and pointing my pumpkin-colored Earth Shoes towards the dry-goods bins, and I'm certain I would have reached for a carob Tiger's Milk bar at the check-out counter. But what of the actual "soybean patties?"  I have a vague memory of the blender's high-pitched whine as it labored to process the soybeans, but that's it. I'm thinking this means I didn't love them.

So I was intrigued by the prospect of revisiting homemade veggie burgers after all these years.

My first attempted recipe came from a respectable source, but it was disappointing. Copious bread crumbs worked well as a binder but the result was too bland to rescue no matter how many seasonings I added. Then an Amazon search led to a jackpot released last year: Veggie Burgers Every Which Way, by Lukas Volger. A little bit more digging led to the author's website, where I was surprised to find many of his recipes accessible for free.

I opted for the book though, and after preparing falafel burgers tonight, I'm more than happy to support the author's effort. If you like falafel, you'll love these, and the fact that there's no deep-frying involved just makes them better. I'm really impressed by how fresh and flavorful they are, and they're simple to make too.

I made my own cucumber yogurt sauce (tzatziki) as an accompaniment, although there is another version in the book.

Lukas Volger's Baked Falafel Burgers

1 cup dried chickpeas, rinsed and soaked as below - NOT precooked
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds * see note
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chickpea or all-purpose flour, if needed

Place chickpeas in a medium sized bowl and cover with water by 4 to 5 inches. Let sit 24 hours; drain thoroughly.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place all ingredients but chickpea flour in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until coarsely combined. If the mixture is struggling to come together, add a bit of water, but no more than 2 tablespoons. If water is added, stir in chickpea flour. Adjust seasoning. Shape into 6 patties (mixture will be fairly wet).

Place the patties on a well-oiled baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, flipping once halfway through, until golden and firm.

Makes 6 burgers


Don't try making these with canned or precooked chickpeas; the chickpeas here are simply soaked and then ground in a food processor.

To toast cumin seeds, place in a small frying pan over high heat and toss frequently until their aroma is released, 2 to 3 minutes.

Don't be concerned if the mixture seems wet even without adding water. The patties dry out a bit during baking and have a perfect level of moistness in the end. They also hold together well without added flour.

Tzatziki Sauce

2 large English cucumbers
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
12 ounces plain Greek yogurt, whole milk or 2 percent
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and white pepper to taste

Cut cucumbers in half lengthwise and scrape seeds out with a spoon. Discard seeds. Cut cucumbers into a large dice and toss in a mesh strainer with salt. Set aside to drain for at least an hour or preferably two. Rinse lightly with cold water just before using.

Squeeze cucumbers by hand to remove excess liquid and add to bowl of food processor. Add half of yogurt, olive oil, vinegar and garlic and pulse until mixed but not completely pureed. You want to retain texture from the cucumbers. Dump contents into a bowl and stir in rest of yogurt. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate.

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