Perfect Companions for your Picnic Basket
When we don’t go to India, my husband and I go to Mexico for holidays. As in India, the weather is always warm and sunny, the people are super-friendly and the food is veg-friendly and delicious — just like home!
We book a hotel room with a kitchenette so we can experiment with recipes using local ingredients. The food markets are bustling in Mexican towns, full of discriminating shoppers vying for the best quality produce. Herbs and spices are easy to find, and often sold in bulk so that one can inspect them for freshness. After trying some local entrees in restaurants, we tried the dishes in our hotel and created some interesting recipes. Here are two recipes that combine the flavors of Mexico and India, two of the best cuisines in the world!
Chilaquiles is one of many recipes in Mexican cuisine that make good use of stale tortillas. The dish can take many forms, from a soup with tortillas floating on top to a hearty casserole like this one. In addition to traditional tortilla chips, cheese, sauce, and layers of beans, tofu or even rice and quinoa can be added to create a substantial entrée for an impressive meal.
2 cups of cooked rice and quinoa pilaf (see recipe below)
4 cups Mexican Salsa Roja (see recipe below)
1 dozen corn tortillas (dry, stale tortillas are best)
2 tablespoons canola, corn, safflower or olive oil, plus a few extra tablespoons as needed
2 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese, queso fresco (Mexican fresh cheese), or a melt-able vegan substitute
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
First cook the rice and quinoa together following the recipe provided below and spread them out onto a platter. Next make the sauce following the recipe below. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spread a teaspoon of oil in a frying pan and lightly fry the tortillas one at a time on both sides to soften them. Add more oil as needed, but just enough to moisten the pan. Do not allow the tortillas to become too oily or too crispy. Remove to paper towels to drain excess oil. Cut the tortillas into 1½-inch-wide strips and set aside.
Lightly oil the bottom of a 9×14 inch casserole dish. Layer the ingredients as follows:
Line the bottom of the casserole with a cup of Mexican Salsa Roja. Cover the sauce with a layer of tortilla strips. Next, sprinkle a cup of cheese on top of the tortilla strips. Then, layer 1½ cups of rice and quinoa pilaf, spreading evenly. Repeat the process, layering salsa, tortilla strips, cheese (or vegan “cheese”) and rice & quinoa mixture. Lastly sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top and cover the casserole with the rest of the salsa, making sure to cover the dry corners. Cover the casserole with a lid or an aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for a few minutes more until the top is golden brown. Cool for a few minutes, cut into squares, and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves. Serve with avocado chutney. (recipe below.)
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Basmati Rice and Quinoa Pilaf
Both rice and quinoa are nourishing and easy to digest. Indian Basmati rice has a unique fragrance that has been attributed to its native soil. Quinoa, an ancient Inca grain, is very nutritious, high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Like Basmati rice, quinoa cooks in twelve minutes, making a perfect marriage of two grains.
2 cups hot water boiled with ½ teaspoon salt
½ cup white basmati rice and ½ cup white quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon oil
¼ cup chopped or slivered almonds or cashew pieces
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
Bring the water and salt to a boil. Heat the oil in a skillet and stir fry the nuts for 2-3 minutes. Add the cumin seeds and sauté for one minute. Add the grains and stir fry for 3 minutes, but don’t allow them to brown. Add the grain mixture to boiling water. Allow the water to return to a boil, reduce the heat and cook covered for 10 -12 minutes. Turn off the heat and keep the grains covered. After ten minutes, remove the cover and serve, or use in the casserole recipe as described above.
Yield: approximately five cups
Mexican Tomato Salsa Roja
2 pounds fresh red tomatoes (not canned)
2 fresh jalapeno or serrano peppers, seeded and deveined, finely chopped
3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, finely chopped
3 to 4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons corn or safflower oil
½ cup onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon or more salt to taste
Boil the tomatoes in a pot of water for a few minutes until their skins split. Transfer them to a bowl of cold water to cool. Peel and cut them into chunks. Place the tomatoes and other ingredients (except the onion) in a jar of food processor and blend briefly. Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the chopped onion for 2 minutes. Add the blended tomatoes and salt. Stir and cook for 10 minutes. Keeps well for a week in the refrigerator.
Yield: approximately 6 cups of sauce.
Guacamole always seemed to me so much like a chutney. The inclusion of ginger with the traditional herbs cilantro, scallion and fresh hot chilies used in a Mexican guacamole recipe did the trick.
2 soft, ripe avocados
2 to 3 tablespoons green onion (scallion), including some greens, finely minced
3 tablespoons finely-chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated
1 small fresh serrano or jalapeno pepper, deseeded and deveined, finely minced
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime or lemon
Salt to taste
Peel the avocados and remove the pits, reserving one pit. In a mixing bowl, mash the avocado pulp into a fine pulp with a fork. In a separate bowl, mix together the onions, cilantro, ginger and pepper.
Combine the contents of both bowls and then add the lemon juice and salt. Mix well, transfer to a serving bowl and place the pit in the center to keep the guacamole from discoloring.
In Mexico, traditionally a grinding stone called Molcajete and a pestle is used to mash the avocado and the herbs together into a puree. But you can use a food processor to puree the avocado chutney easily. Place all ingredients in the jar of a processor and blend them into a puree.
Yield: approximately 1 cup chutney