Sunday, November 25, 2012

Vegetarian Lasagne:

Layered With Love

Layered with love? How cheesy is that title? Well let me tell you friends and neighbors, it's real cheesy. Three kinds of cheesy to be exact. Hehe, stepped into that one, didn't you?

In my humble opinion, lasagne is the quintessential comfort food. It's oozing with melty cheeses, it's got thick noodles that are as filling as all get out, and it's packed full of flavor. Lash that together with a hunk of warm garlic bread, a glass of Sangiovese and you are in Heaven.

Now, you can go many different directions with lasagne. And there are three quarters of a million different recipes out there. Trust me. I counted them. All of them. Me? I like the kind with the red sauce as opposed to the cream sauce types. I'm not saying I don't like both, just that if you put them both in front of me, I'd naturally gravitate toward the red sauce lasagne. And of course, since this is a vegetarian blog site, it's gonna have to be, well, vegetarian. 

My aim, when making these dishes, is to please not only myself, but of course, my wife as well. We don't disagree on too many things. That's one of the things that has made our marriage last for so many years. But when it comes to mushrooms, it's like Peter Griffin vs. the chicken, Spy vs. Spy, Wile E. Coyote vs. The Roadrunner. I love mushrooms and will demand that I'm buried with some. She, on the other hand, thinks they're slimy and therefore gross. The compromise? I leave them in large enough chunks so she can easily pick them out...... Smily face. Or as she would say, slimy face.   

While I was doing my research for this recipe, I came across a very interesting tidbit of info. This may already be common knowledge, but it's a new one on me. I always spelled lasagne with an "e" at the end. However, when I searched for it, the suggestion was to to spell it with an "a" at the end. Both look right to me but I always just used the "e" when I wrote it. As it turns out, both are correct. Lasagna is the correct spelling for one noodle, whereas lasagne would be the plural. It would stand to reason, at least from my perspective, that lasagne would be the correct spelling for the dish as well since the dish calls for several noodles. But I suppose that's up for debate.  

This particular recipe is adapted from a number of different recipes. However, its’ greatest influence came from a recipe written by an Allrecipes contributor by the name of John Chandler. This was originally a meat sauce lasagne recipe but I have made the appropriate changes to make it vegetarian. Yes, there seems to be a lot of ingredients here but I'd be willing to bet that you already have many of them in your pantry. And the extra effort you put into this dish will be well rewarded. 


1 (28 oz) can of crushed tomatoes
1 (15 oz) can of tomato sauce
2 (6 oz) cans of tomato paste
1/2 cup of water (you can use veggie broth if you have it on hand)
2 Tbsp white sugar
1 1/2 tsp dried basil leaves
1 tsp fennel seeds (do not leave this out!!!)
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley, divided
1/2 cup minced white or yellow onion
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small eggplant, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 a medium zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 chopped green bell pepper
1/2 pound baby portabella mushrooms, sliced (you can use crimini if you want) 
12 lasagna noodles
16 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1 pound mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese


In a Dutch oven, combine crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley.

Now add the onion, garlic, eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, and mushrooms. Bring to a simmer over a medium high heat. Once simmering, lower heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally (about every 10 minutes or so).

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. You want them fully cooked but you want them al dente. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

To assemble, spread 2 cups of sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 2 cups sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil.  To prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Musical Fruit:

Mexican Bean Stew

I'm not sure if it's a "Mexican thing" or if it's just me but I can most assuredly tell you that I love beans. And I own it. I'm a card carrying bean fanatic. I could eat them most any day and not get tired of them. As such, I'm always on the lookout for a good bean recipe. As far as I'm concerned, you can't have too many bean recipes. 

I read recently that the pinto bean is one of New Mexico's official state vegetables along with the chile. That's a pretty killer combo if you ask me. The article went on to say that the Incas and Aztecs first began cultivating this bean over 5000 years ago. They made their way to Europe with the Spanish explorers in the 15th century who in turn, along with the Portuguese, traded them in Africa and Asia. This resulted in the Phaseolus Vulgaris, or "common bean" as they are referred to, being the most widely used bean today. 

But none of that matters really. What really matters is what they taste like rolled up in warm, homemade corn tortilla. With maybe a little cilantro, onion, hot pepper sauce, and a splash of lime. Oooh. They're actually cooking on stove top as I'm writing this and I'm starting to make myself hungry. Better stop that for now because they got a solid hour and a half to go. 

And, as luck would have it, my wife is not a fan of beans. This means that every bean I make, I eat. Mine!! All mine!!! If she were here, she'd tell me that this was my "only child syndrome" rearing its' ugly head. Only child syndrome or not...mine!!!!!

This recipe is really quite simple. Although it takes over two hours to make, you're only in the kitchen for maybe ten minutes. I swiped this recipe from the cooking show Mexican Made Easy. When I make food, I'm usually not too thrilled with the recipes I dig up so I'll take bits and pieces of several recipes and kinda create my own. This one, however, is pretty much right on the mark. The only thing I did differently is that I added veggie broth to the mix instead of straight water. 


3 cups dries pinto beans
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 white onion, diced
2 bay leaves
3 cup vegetable broth
water (to be determined)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste 


Combine the beans, garlic, onion and bay leaves in a medium to large pot. Add veggie broth and about 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the beans are tender. About 2 hours or so. 

Every 20 minutes, check the beans. Stir them and add water as needed. About a cup at a time. When done, the beans should be somewhat soupy, similar to a chile or a thick stew.  

Ladle into a bowl and garnish with Mexican crema, cilantro and chopped white onions. Alternatively, you can drain them a bit and use them as a filling for soft tacos.

Monday, November 5, 2012


The Green Ones

Enchiladas have been a favorite in my family for many many years. My grandma has been making them longer than I have walked this Earth. And they are wonderful, let me tell you. When she makes them, my dad, uncles, and my aunt all go nuts almost to the point of violence. Well, not really, but you get the picture. It's an event. It's something to behold. It's bigger than all of us. 

The problem I have now is that her enchiladas are filled with beef. And since I no longer eat my fellow Earthlings, I had to come up with an alternative. I fancy my standards pretty high when it comes to the culinary arts. If it isn't amazing, why waste your time, right? That being said, I needed something that might rival my grandma's legendary enchiladas. (Grandma, if you're reading this, they'll never be as good as yours) Now, I don't know if mine are even close but they are pretty freakin' good if I might say so myself. 

You can fill an enchilada with a million different things and make them taste good. But the most important component of a good enchilada is the sauce in which you cover it. I have searched the world (wide web) over for a decent enchilada sauce. The vast majority of those out there are tomatillo based. And this is all well and good but in my humble opinion, tomatillos are a touch too twangy. Say THAT 5 times fast! Now, I'm not adverse to a touch of twang. But gosh twang it, to much twang is twagic. Okay, I've gone too far. Sorry.
So I did what any desperate dude would do in a situation like this. I looked at the ingredients list on the the back of a can of Las Palmas enchilada sauce. The main ingredient? Green chile peppers!! Not a tomatillo to be found.

My brain did, however, tell me that no tomatillos at all is probably not the right way to go. After all, why would 90% of all the enchilada sauce recipes out there call for them if it wasn't right? Right? A little twang is good but we needed to counter-balance it with a bit of mild chile pepper flavor.

The plan of attack was to make a tomatillo based sauce and, also, to make a chile pepper based sauce and do a side-by-side comparison. The tomatillo sauce was fantastic. However, it was a bit twangy. How did I not see that one coming? The chile pepper sauce was also fantastic but it need a bit of.....I dunno.....twang. 

Eureka!! A combo!! Half tomatillo, half chile pepper. 

This recipe will make roughly 20 enchiladas depending on how well you portion your filling. I like to make extra so I have leftovers for days. You can easily cut this recipe in half if you want a smaller batch. However, if you choose to go full throttle, you're gonna need two baking dishes to accommodate the 20 enchiladas.


For The Sauce:

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 pound Anaheim peppers, rough chopped and seeded
2 poblano peppers, rough chopped and seeded
1 pound tomatillos, quartered
1 medium onion, yellow or white
5 garlic cloves
1-2 jalapenos, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp salt (I use a seasoning salt called Johnny's. Better flavor than salt and less sodium)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp cumin powder
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups veggie stock

For The Enchiladas:

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 half red bell pepper, julienned 
1 half yellow onion, julienned 
1 tsp black pepper
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese, shredded and divided
2.25 oz sliced olives (you can also used diced if you prefer smaller pieces)
2 15 oz cans of black beans 
1 15 oz can of vegetarian refried beans
1/2 cup of cilantro leaves, chopped (from about 10 sprigs)
24 corn tortillas


To Prepare The Sauce: 

Heat oil in a large skillet to a medium high heat. Add the anaheims, poblanos, tomatillos, onion and garlic. There will quite a bit of veggies here so you may have to do it in 2 batches. Blacken the veggies a bit in the skillet making sure not to over burn them. See the photo above. This is how they should look when they are done. That blackened parts on the veggies will give your sauce a little bit of smokiness that really adds depth. 
Next, place the cooked veggies along with the remaining sauce ingredients and blend until it's smooth. Pour the sauce into a sauce pan and heat on a medium high until it begins to simmer. Turn down the heat and continue to simmer on low for about 10 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes or so. 

To Prepare The Enchiladas: 

Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the bell pepper, onion and black pepper. Saute for about 3-5 minutes. You want the veggies cooked about halfway but still a little crisp. Remove from heat and add to large bowl. Add 1 cup of the cheese, the olives, black beans, refried beans, and cilantro to the bowl. Combine the contents of the bowl with your hand or a spoon until evenly distributed. You'll want to "fold" these ingredients together being careful not to smash the veggies and the black beans.

Take a half cup or so of the enchilada sauce and spread it around the bottom of your baking pan. This will help your enchiladas from sticking to the pan after baking. 

Wrap your tortillas in a kitchen towel and heat them in the microwave for 30-45 seconds. I do them in batches of five so they are not all heated at once. This way you can heat five, assemble five, then heat five more and so on. You want them warm so they are pliable and you can easily wrap your ingredients in them without breaking the tortilla. Some people might fry them in oil to achieve this but it just adds too many unneeded calories. Once you have your first five tortillas heated, take one and dip it into the sauce to coat. Then, add your filling to the center of the tortilla and roll it up. Place it into the pan and repeat this process until all the enchiladas are assembled. 

Once all are assembled, spread some more of the sauce onto the top of the enchiladas to cover them a bit. Don't feel obligated to use all of the sauce. This recipe may make a bit more sauce than you actually may need or prefer. Then take the remaining cheese and sprinkle it evenly over the top of the enchiladas. Cover the pans with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. 

Additional Tips: 

Traditionally, enchiladas are topped with shredded lettuce. I usually put the lettuce on the plate under the enchiladas and serve them immediately before the lettuce wilts. I personally prefer Romaine or iceberg lettuce. It gives a little crunch with each bite and the contrast of the warm enchiladas to the cool lettuce is quite nice. 

You can also top them with avocado, sour cream, Mexican crema, fresh diced tomatoes, etc. Me? I just like the enchiladas over the lettuce only. I don't like to smother them with too much other stuff. This way, I get the full flavor of the dish.