My Favorite Quesadilla

No, I don't think anyone needs a recipe for a quesadilla. All you need to do is melt cheese in a tortilla. You can make them in the microwave, under the broiler or in a skillet. (My roommate last year actually had a designated quesadilla maker.)  You can keep them cheese-only, fill them with extras or put all the fun stuff on top. To each his own, really.

But let me tell you about my own.

My favorite quesadilla starts with a hot cast iron pan. With a little olive oil, I cook sweet bell peppers, onions, mushrooms and diced jalapeno. Salt and pepper. I push that to the side and lay down a tortillla…ideally it is a Trader Joe's Truly Handmade tortilla. I add shredded Monterey Jack (not a ton) and put the vegetables on top to melt the cheese faster. When the cheese is gooey and the tortilla slightly crisp, I slide it on a plate, squeeze fresh lime juice all over and fill the quesadilla with cilantro before folding it in half. Depending on the day, I might also smother the whole thing with sour cream.
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So, no, you don't need a recipe for a quesadilla. But if you were looking for some inspiration, just gaze at that photo a little longer.

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North Indian Style Spinach Chicken

I love Indian food, but sometimes those curries can be heavy. This dish, on the other hand, is more brothy than saucy, and still has that flavor I love. It has tomatoes, spinach and chicken breast, but it would be good with garbanzo beans instead, if you wanted to make it vegetarian.

I saw this in Sunset Magazine, which has been full of good recipes lately (See: Ginger Pear Crisp). My mom and I loved how light it felt while still filling us up.

Of course we changed it up a bit. Instead of serving with plain yogurt on top and cucumber salad on the side, I combined the two in a raita. I liked the cool crunch of cucumbers mixed in with the cooked vegetables. It’s all about layering flavors, textures and temperatures.

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Saffron Chicken Tajine and Eggplant-Tomato-Herb Salad

The theme of the night was ambiance.

My friend and fellow foodblogger Ally came over to help make a warm and hearty Moroccan meal for my family. As the vegetables roasted and the chicken simmered, we dimmed the dining room lights and adorned the table with candles and tiny tajine pots. We made a pot of hot mint tea.

During the meal, my family tried to remember Moroccan restaurants we had been to around the world.

What was the one with rose petals on the floor?

Oh yeah, it was downstairs and had candles on the wall?

Remember that one with all the pillows?

Bereber?

No.

That one has pillows too. The one on Robertson?

No.

That one had pillows.

404?

I think it was in New York.

Ok, so they all have pillows.

Homemade Moroccan bread — the recipe I used seems to have disappeared from the Internet

Then it clicked. Earlier in the week I read the Morocco chapter of New American Chef:

“The real beauty of Moroccan cuisine, however, is the hospitality that is as engulfing as the flavors and aromas.”

Several times the book mentioned the importance of comfort while eating. I know we must have had delicious and filling meals of couscous, merguez, tagines and other Moroccan delights, but what we all remembered most about those restaurants was the ambiance. The low tables, the heavy curtains, the rustic walls, the ceremonious pouring of tea, the rose petals, the pillows…

The meal Ally and I prepared was definitely tasty, and equally important, served with just the right ambiance.

North African meals previously: Tunisian Lamb Stew, Moroccan Roast Chicken and Algerian Carrot Salad
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Indian-Style Scrambled Eggs

indian-scrambled-eggsWhen someone asks me what my favorite type of food is, it's hard to narrow it down. I love so many kinds of cuisine, and I don't know enough about them all to make a definitive declaration.

Indian food is always on the list, but it just might be the top. The more I learn about it, the more I taste it, the surer I feel. Ginger, garlic, chilies and cilantro…what a combination, those ingredients should be in everything.

And in much of Indian food they are. Even scrambled eggs!

I read about this dish in Mangoes and Curry Leaves. The authors said it was something they had in a small tea shop in a rural area of India. I made it for lunch yesterday and loved it.

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Goan-Style Roast Chicken and Gingered Split Peas

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Cilantro, lime, garlic, ginger, jalapenos, cinnamon and cloves…

If that ingredient list doesn't get you excited, then I don't know what you're doing here. Now, imagine all those cooking together on a chicken. Smelling that in the oven for an hour and 20 minutes was the best and worst thing ever — tortuously incredible. It was worth the wait though. This Goan-style chicken came from a recipe from chef Floyd Cardoz of Tabla in New York. I had to make it when I read that ingredient list.

Normally I would resent spending $1.50 on 40 grams of cilantro, but a 5-pound chicken only cost US$3, so I can't possibly complain. I recently calculated that I have spent $200 on two months' worth of groceries in Buenos Aires. That includes several items that will last me the rest of my time here. When I don't cook at home, I mostly get street food, which will fill me up for $3 or $4. I love it here.

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But back to the chicken, it was incredibly tasty. I ate it with gingered split peas and chapati, an Indian flatbread. A very satisfying dinner with plenty of leftovers.

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Tamarind Cole Slaw

As part of my continued “culinary homeschooling,” as I like to think of it, I have been trying to understand how acids work in cooking. I wrote a bit about citrus, vinegar and wine before, but since then I have learned a lot and begun experimenting much more.

Part of that included learning more about tamarind, the sour fruit often used in Indian cooking. Michael and I used it in a coconut shrimp curry we cooked for the University Iron Chef competition. Tamarind is very sour, and when combined with the right amount of sugar and savory ingredients, offers such a unique acidity to dishes.

One night I tried using it in lieu of vinegar or citrus to make a dressing for cole slaw. We were having an Indian-inspired meal, so I combined it with cumin and cilantro, which I knew were used in many other Indian dishes. The last few times I’ve made the dressing, I’ve added lime or white wine vinegar as well, but I think the first time was all tamarind pulp. For whatever reason, there were also sesame seeds in the cole slaw the first time I made it (as you might notice in the first picture.) Now I just leave the cumin seeds whole for texture and flavor.

I make variations of slaw a lot more often than I make leafy salads these days. Cabbage is so much cheaper and lasts a lot longer than lettuce, so for a recent college grad without a car to get to the store often, cole slaw is often my side dish of choice. When I can’t be bothered doing anything else, I toss shredded cabbage with bottled poppy seed dressing. It has just the right amount of sweetness and I prefer it to mayonnaise.

If you have a few minutes more, try the tamarind vinaigrette. It’s nice on other things too. I’ve put a similar vinaigrette on thinly sliced jicama after seeing it here.

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