Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My version of Mexican...


Cooking at Oberlin usually happened in the co-op, but it was hard cooking for 100s of people at once if you didn't quite have a plan or know what you were doing. I can't count how many times I had burnt rice, because we didn't have rice cookers, and people would just accidentally burn entire batches of rice on the stove. Usually the heat was too high; the bottom layer would be burnt to a crisp but the middle and top layers were, shall we say, al dente? Who knew cooking rice would be so hard...

Fortunately, however, not all cooking took place in the co-op. Some took place off-campus, in friends' houses. It was in a house on Elm street that a good friend taught me how to make "Spanish rice". I've made this Spanish rice many times since, always variations of this original dish. It's also become a tradition for me to make Spanish rice into a meal along with black beans, sliced peppers and onions, and a side salad of sorts. My version of Mexican is something I have become very comfortable preparing, something that's not only filling but enjoyable, colorful, and whole.

The recipes for my version of Mexican are below; I've tried to break them up into manageable pieces. You can sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese on top (I used raw cheddar from TJ's), and accompany with whole wheat or traditional corn tortillas, or not.

RICE AND BEANS
4 t oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 t cumin
1 T tomato paste
1 16-oz can diced tomatoes, with their juice
1.5 c brown rice
3.75 c water
4 c black beans, cooked (or 2 16-oz cans)
1/2 T chipotle pepper flakes, or 1 whole dried chipotle pepper.

Rice:
Pour 2 t oil into medium saucepan and heat on medium. Add 1/2 of the diced onion. Cook until translucent, about 5 min. Add garlic, cumin, tomato paste, and 1/2 c of the diced tomatoes. Stir. Add the rice, and stir, until well coated and ingredients are well blended; cook for about 5 min. At this point, add the water, stir, and from here on out, it's just like cooking regular ol' rice: Bring pot to boil, reduce heat to low so contents simmer, and cover for about 30 min, or until water is absorbed and rice is done. Fluff with a fork.

Beans:
Put remaining oil into second saucepan, and heat on medium. Add remaining onion and chipotle (flakes or whole), and cook until onion is translucent, about 5 min. Add the rest of the canned tomatoes and all of the beans, including their liquids. Stir. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Then reduce heat so contents simmer. Cook for 30 min or longer, depending on desired thickness.

Peppers and Onions
2 t vegetable oil
2-3 bell peppers, red and/or green, sliced lengthwise, thinly
1/2 yellow or white onion, sliced into strips

In a wok or large saute pan, heat oil on medium-low. Add peppers and onions, and toss until oil is evenly distributed. Cover pan, and cook for 15-20 min, tossing peppers and onions occasionally.

Cabbage Salad (inspired by Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites)
1/2 head of red cabbage, very thinly sliced (think 1/8" slices; use a mandolin or chef's knife)
1/2 of a bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, very thinly sliced
1/4 c small-dice red onion
dressing:
1/2 c plain yogurt
1 t cumin
pinch cinnamon
2 t juice of lemon or lime
1 t grated red onion
1 clove garlic, pressed or smashed and diced small

Whisk dressing ingredients together. Pour on top of salad ingredients, and toss. Add salt to taste.

Meal items taste great separately laid out on a plate (as in the photo), or all mushed together for a bowl meal (a real co-op favorite). I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

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