May 4, 2016

Two Low-So Hot Sauces & A Taco Bar

Mexican Horizontal

Mexican Horizontal

Tomorrow, you will most likely be invited to a fiesta or maybe even host one yourself. So to make sure you’re completely low-so prepared, I wanted to give you some recipes (or non-recipes) for your arsenal of ultimate Cinco De Mayo Flexible Feasts. For tomorrow or any taco tuesday.

Low-So Hot Sauces overhead

But before we dive into the main meals, let’s first dip into a few literal hot sauces. Three to be exact: Roasted red pepper/chipotle, roasted poblano/tomatillo, and roasted tomatoes. By having one or all of these on hand, you can quickly spice up any dish, from a simple bowl of rice to grilled skirt steak to roasted butternut squash. And thanks to your oven and a small food processor, they’re all super easy to whip up, too. Which is why I suggest making at least one of them on a Sunday night to use in your meals all week long.

But enough about my suggestions, let’s get to those sauces. And note: If you’re making all of them, remember you can roast the red peppers, the tomatillos, and the poblano at the same time. Then, since you’ve used your broiler, your oven is hot and ready for those tomatoes. See what I did there? Efficiency!

And double note: Remember to use these sauces BEYOND Mexican inspired cuisine. Add harissa spices to the roasted pepper sauce for something more Mediterranean (think: lamb). Or coconut milk and turmeric to the tomatillos for something more along the lines of an Indian-inspired curry or saag paneer (think: spinach and tofu). And those roasted tomatoes on seriously anything — a pile of spaghetti or even your morning bowl of Greek yogurt. So let’s just dive in.

IMG_5690LOW-SO ROASTED RED PEPPER/CHIPOTLE SAUCE

You will need 2 red bell peppers and 1 to 2 dried ancho chili peppers.

Cut the red bell peppers in half and remove the stem and seeds. Cover a baking pan (the one with a rim) with foil and place the peppers flat-side down on the foil. Place on the top rack in the oven and turn on the broiler. Cook until charred, about 15 minutes. Then carefully remove the peppers and place in a bowl. Use the foil to cover the bowl and let the peppers steam.

Meanwhile, steep the dried ancho peppers in very hot water.

When the red bell peppers and ancho peppers have cooled to the touch, about 15 minutes, slip the charred skin off the peppers and place into a small food processor or blender. Chop up with the now rehydrated ancho peppers and add to the food processor or blender. Then add 1 to 2 Tbsp of the chili steeping liquid. Blend until smooth, adding more steeping liquid, citrus juice, or even olive oil as desired until you reach the consistency you want for your sauce (i.e. thick and viscous or thin and runny. Choose your own sauce adventure).

Variations: play with different types of dried peppers to get different flavors and level of spiciness. Chipotle and ancho have a sweet and smoky quality to them, while habaneros and chile de arbol provide a “burn-your-tongue-off” heat. Pick wisely. And if you go too far on the spice scale, add a little yogurt (or avocado or coconut milk) to make it creamy and mellow things out.

LOW-SO ROASTED TOMATILLO/POBLANO SAUCE

This sauce begins very similarly to the roasted red pepper sauce above, so as noted earlier, feel free to roast them all the veg together, at the same time. But as for details…

You will need 5 medium-sized tomatillos, 1 poblano pepper, a handful of fresh cilantro, and some vegetable oil. Start by cutting the poblano pepper in half and removing the stem and seeds. Remove the husks from the tomatillos and run them under the faucet for a second to remove the sticky stuff on their skin. Cut them in half. Then, cover a baking pan with some foil. Place the peppers and tomatillos flat-side down on the foil-lined pan. Place on the top rack of the oven and turn on the broiler. Cook until the skin gets charred, about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and place the tomatillos and poblano in a bowl. Use the foil to cover the bowl and let the tomatillos and pepper steam, about 15 minutes.

When cool to the touch, slip the charred skin off the tomatillos and peppers. Place in a food processor. Add the cilantro and about 1/4 cup oil (or citrus juice — lime or orange works great). Blend until smooth.

Roated Tomatoes

ROASTED TOMATOES

So if you’ve made on or both of the sauces above, here’s the great news: Your oven is already hot! And ready to roast some tomatoes. You need about 24 cherry tomatoes (which is approximately two of those little baskets from the store). Put those tomatoes in one of your baking pans that you just used and place it in a 400dg F oven. Cook until the tomatoes get juicy and blistered, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Carefully remove them from the oven and place into a medium mixing bowl. Leave them whole; for something more “rustic,”use the back of a fork to pierce and smash them so its a mixture of chunky tomato pieces and juice; or go the true sauce route and use that trusty food processor yet again to smooth things out.

NOW FOR THE FUN

Okay, so you have your sauces. And with those, it’s time to build a few flexible feasts. Go the appetizer route and make a BYO Guacamole Bar. Or go for a full BYO Taco Spread. Or for something totally different, BYO Zucchini Enchilada Boats. With Gluten-free, Paleo, Whole 30, Vegetarian, Vegan, and Low-So options for each. Here’s what you need.

Guacamole Bar

BUILD YOUR OWN GUACAMOLE BAR 

Provide a big bowl of avocados (sliced, dishes, or smashed). And then give guests a ton of mix-in options and toppings, including fruit (like diced mango, pineapple, or nectarines — if you grill them first, even better), something with texture (like diced cucumber or jicama and corn — using frozen, grilled is a plus). Sliced green onions, fresh herbs, lime, and even veggies, like shaved zucchini, squash, or peas. Finish it off with your hot sauces and let guests mix and mash to their hearts content. But add your own flare, too — whether that means toasted pumpkin and coriander seeds. Or cheese, for those who can indulge.

Taco Bar

BUILD YOUR OWN TACO BAR

If you’re looking for something more filling than chips and dips, add a few more items to the mix to make a flexible feast Taco Bar! For this particular spread, I cooked fish in the Tomatillo/Poblano sauce until it became flaky and easily shredded — but you could always do pork butt and chicken, too. It will just take longer.

I also roasted cauliflower and butternut squash and smothered it in oil and my low-so chorizo spice rub. And I added a big bowl of chopped purple cabbage for color, but also to act as a base for a “taco bowl” — a great option for those guests that don’t do corn or flour tortillas. But this was just one night’s list of players — sometimes I add no-salt-added and self-spiced black or pinto beans, grilled skirt steak, or quick-pickled carrots to the mix as well. So remember to experiment with textures and combinations. And of course, with whatever is laying around in your fridge and well-stocked Mexican pantry.

IMG_5554

BUILD YOUR OWN ZUCCHINI ENCHILADAS 

And one final idea for any tortilla-free fiesta: Zucchini Enchilada Boats. Remember, every zucchini will make two boats! So buy according to the number of guests you plan to feed. Then, to get things set up, cut off the ends of the zucchinis and slice them in half, length-wise. Use a spoon to hollow out the middle — saving it for another night’s pasta sauce or pesto, or chopping it up and sautéing it for a double zucchini filling.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and carefully (using tongs) drop the zucchinis into the water for about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove them and set aside to dry. Now for the fun part. If you’re cooking all the zucchini boats the same way, simply line them up in a large baking dish, fill, and bake (as directed below). And remember to smother with a sauce of your choosing.

IMG_5587

But if you have guests with different needs, buy small foil baking pans or make little foil boats yourself out of…foil. Then, put one or two zucchini boats into each baking pain (store-bough or DIY’d). And let guests pick from the fillings according to his or her needs.

Here, I had corn (which was frozen and thawed), roasted red pepper (diced), no-salt-added black beans (drained), toasted pumpkin seeds (crushed), swiss cheese (low-sodium), and shredded chicken (cooked in the tomatillo/poblano sauce). Of course, fresh or roasted tomatoes, roasted bell pepper/chipotle sauce, and diced fruit would also be amazing. So go with what you have or what you find at the store. And don’t forget to make these even easier to prepare by getting a few pre-made items from the store for guests that do not have low-sodium needs (like chorizo sausage, rotisserie chicken, and a shredded Mexican cheese blend).

Let everyone fill the zucchini boats with his or her chosen ingredients. Place the individual baking pans right into the oven or on one large baking sheet, for easier maneuvering. And cook at 400dg F until all the zucchinis are cooked through, about 25 minutes. Top with fresh herbs and more hot sauce. And serve warm. How fun!

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