Friday, September 28, 2012

Balsamic Caramelized Onions & How to Make Food Less Spicy

Did you get heavy handed with the pepper?  Is your favorite ethnic take out food unusually spicy this week?  Did that jalapeno pepper turn out to be a lot hotter than you originally thought?  Well, fret not! Cooking is an art and you can fix just about anything that isn't burnt.

After having quite a bit of Mexican Pesto leftover from the Hominy and Corn Chowder with Mexican Pesto, I thought I'd remix it by throwing it in the blender with some chipotle peppers and sun dried tomatoes.  I then used the pesto as a sauce for a box of whole wheat spaghetti.  When I tasted the final product, it was hot!  Like, so hot that my nostrils were tingling and I had to add cheese, drink milk, and take breaks to finish eating it.

That night, I went back to the drawing board and thought about how I would salvage this dish. As mentioned in this article, How to Make Hot Peppers Stop Burning, I knew I had the following options:

  • Add dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or sour cream: The casein in dairy products breaks down the capsaicin in spicy food.
  • Dilute:  Adding more food will change the ratio of spice to food and reduce the spiciness of the dish.  
  • Acid: Acids such as citrus fruits, vinegar, and tomatoes will help to neutralize the alkaline activity in capsaicinoid.
  • Carbohydrates: This includes bread, rice, pasta, crackers, tortillas, beer (it's made from grains), potatoes, corn, and sugar.  According to Dr. Helmenstine, "Carbs provide a barrier between your mouth and some of the capsaicin so less of it contacts your tongue, lips, etc. The sugars in the carbohydrates may also help to lessen the activity of the capsaicinoids" (2012, How to Make Peppers Stop Burning).

For my pasta, I decided to add balsamic caramelized onions for sweetness and acid.  I added about 3/4 cup of grated carrots glazed in a tablespoon of vanilla Greek yogurt for my dairy component and to dilute the dish with vegetables.  I added another box of whole wheat spaghetti to dilute the dish with more pasta (carbohydrates).  I added a large can of crushed tomatoes for more acid.  I also added sauteed spinach, diced olives, diced artichokes, and julienned red bell peppers to further dilute the dish.  The final dish was hearty, flavorful, and it wasn't even the least bit spicy.  I offered some to a friend who dropped by my house.  She added hot sauce to hers and raved about how good the spaghetti was.  Oh, the irony...

The methods applied here have universal application for making food less spicy. 

Balsamic Caramelized Onions


  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, chopped
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large skillet, melt the butter and olive oil.  Add the onion and oregano, cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add 2 tablespoons of water to the skillet and cook over moderate heat until the onion is caramelized, about 10 minutes (add a few extra tablespoons of water to the skillet if necessary).  Add the balsamic vinegar and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until has evaporated, about 10 minutes.  Season the onion with salt and pepper.

Note: Balsamic caramelized onions are great in sandwiches and pasta, on pizza, mixed in with vegetables, or as a side dish.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hominy and Corn Chowder with Mexican Pesto

Have you ever had food so good that you hide it to keep ravenous scavengers others in your household from devouring it?  You nibble at it like a Lilliputian to savor the eating experience.  You curse the person who dares to ask for your last bite of food.  If so, you will understand exactly how I feel about this chowder.

This hominy and corn chowder has an incredible depth of flavor that's perfect for jumpstarting comfort food season.  The soyrizo (soy chorizo) lends a nice spiciness.  The chipotle peppers in adobo sauce gives it a pleasant smokiness.  The hominy and corn provide that luscious, sweet corn goodness and they are also a nice contrast in texture.  The cream gives it the rich taste associated with chowders.  Finally, the queso fresco, scallions, jalapeno peppers, and Mexican pesto that rounds out the chowder prove that garnishes can provide a big bang in the flavor department.  Buen Provecho!

This recipe served as a guide for this dish:

Hominy and Corn Chowder with Mexican Pesto

  • 1/2 pound maiz trillado (dried cracked yellow hominy corn; 1 1/3 cups), picked over and rinsed
  • 11 cups of vegetable stock made with 3 Rapunzel Vegan Vegetable Bouillon with Sea Salt & Herbs
  • 1-12 oz pack Soyrizo
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 Tbsp. jalapeno chile, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. garlic, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen corn
  • 1 can chipotle chile in adobo sauce
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 2 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1/4 cup toasted pepita seeds
  • 1/2 Tsp jalapeno chile, minced
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1-12 oz block queso fresco (1/2 cup freshly grated queso for pesto.  Remaining cheese can be used as a garnish for the soup)
  • 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped

Soaking dried cracked yellow hominy corn: 

Cover maiz trillado with 4 cups of water and let stand overnight.  Drain and rinse, discarding water.  

Make chowder:

Add soaked corn to pot with 8 cups of vegetable stock and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Simmer, partially covered, until tender, about 1 hour. (Do not drain.)

While corn is cooking, brown soyrizo and onion in a large skillet on low heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 10 minutes.  Add bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic, and cumin and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until pepper is softened, about 8 minutes.  

Transfer the soyrizo mixture to pot with corn and its reserved cooking liquid.  Add 3 remaining cups of vegetable stock and simmer for about 15 minutes.  Stir in fresh (or frozen) corn and simmer for another 6 minutes.

Transfer 2 cups of chowder to blender along with 5 - 6 small chipotle peppers and puree.  (Use caution and hold blender top with a clean dish towel to avoid being splashed with the hot liquid).  Stir the pure into chowder along with cream and bring just to a simmer (do not let boil).  Serve with garnish of chopped scallions, minced, fresh jalapeno peppers, queso fresco, and Mexican pesto.  

Make Mexican Pesto:

Combine the cilantro, garlic, pepitas, and jalapeno chile in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.  Add olive oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.  Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.    

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sauteed Okra

For you to understand my love for okra, I must go back to the beginning.  All the way back to my childhood in Mississippi where okra was a standard crop in my family's vegetable garden and a staple in our diet.  Well, at least for my mom and me. I've never been much of a picky eater and my mom and I indulged in okra as a companion food for greens, purple hull & black-eyed peas, and cornbread.  I rounded out those meals with a little chow chow relish and a few slices of raw onions added to the mix.  To this very day, okra is my favorite vegetable.  Eating it, I can't help but feel nostalgic for the days of old.

A few years ago, I created this recipe for okra.  It's quite different from the lightly steamed okra I grew up on.  It's quick and easy.  The okra is slightly crunchy and the seasoning provides a surprising pop of flavor.  I once made this okra dish for a carb-loving friend who struggled to eat vegetables and she had two helpings of it.  The following week, she called me three times to let me know that she had made my okra recipe.

Sauteed Okra


  • 1 pat of butter
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 small jalapeno chile, thinly sliced
  • I mess of okra (roughly 15 pods)
  • Creole seasoning, to taste
  • Garlic powder, to taste
  • Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Wash, gently scrub, rinse, and clean the okra thoroughly.  Shake off excess water and set aside in a container.

Heat butter and olive in a large skillet over low heat.  Add jalapenos and okra pods to the skillet and cook about 2 minutes, thoroughly tossing the okra in the oil mixture.  Sprinkle the Creole seasoning, garlic powder, and cracked black pepper over the okra and continue cooking for another two to three minutes.  Then, added the minced garlic and cook another minute or two, being sure not to overcook the okra and garlic.  Garlic burns easily and when overcooked or cooked at too high a temperature, it will turn bitter.  

The final product should be coated in garlic and spice with a slight crunch.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Vegetable Confetti Fried Rice

Frittatas are my tried-and-true answer to leftover vegetables, a quick and easy way to elevate simple ingredients.  It's a food that knows no bound and tastes just as good with potatoes and cheese as it does with bok choy and mushrooms.  While frittatas are a favorite of mine,  I was craving something entirely different this past Friday.  I needed something more celebratory that was appropriate for the occasion: 1.) Ending a long work week filled with teachings, trainings, and meetings, and  2.)  Commencing a Labor Day Staycation in Baltimore and the DMV - DC/Maryland/Virginia.

I happened to have beaucoup brown rice on hand and fried rice seemed like the perfect thing to make with cauliflower, red cabbage, carrots, yellow squash, and spinach.  No?  Why, of course.  This vibrant dish is relatively healthy, delicious, and filled with a variety of shredded vegetables that bears a resemblance to confetti.  More reason to celebrate!

Vegetable Confetti Fried Rice


  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/4 cup cauliflower, broken into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup shredded red cabbage
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup shredded spinach
  • 1/2 small yellow squash, chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 teaspoon oyster sauce (or fish sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

Prepare cook station with mise en place (i.e., put everything in place needed for cooking). In a wok or large skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat.  Add the vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes until slightly tender.  Add the eggs and scramble.  

Add the cooked brown rice to skillet and stir to combine well.  Drizzle with oyster sauce and stir to incorporate into the dish.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Drizzle with sesame oil and stir to incorporate into the dish.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Enjoy.

Cook's Note - Feel free to include any of the following ingredients: chopped onions, shrimp, chicken, or soy sauce to taste before eating