There is nothing sexy about how I came up with this recipe for black bean tacos with kabocha squash. In truth the real impetus came from the fact I had some cooked black beans in the freezer and kabocha squash that was a couple of weeks old sitting on the counter. I had to use them or lose them. However mundane the origin of an idea, the process of creating a meal requires some inspiration and creativity and that is sexy.
Often, my inspiration for the food I cook comes from the people I feed. Between all my friends and family, I will take into consideration everyone’s diet preference. This is why you will find on my blog a selection of meals to serve, omnivores, pescatarians, vegetarians, vegans, low-glycemic, gluten-free, and dairy-free recipes. In these times, all cooks should have a few recipes that will feed their diverse community.
While creating this recipe for black bean tacos it was important to me that this recipe be suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets. Therefore, any dairy is supplemental and added separately as a topping for individual tacos. That meant all ingredients in the beans and squash must be plant-based.
Distinctive flavor of Black Bean Tacos
This recipe started with frozen cooked black beans I made several months ago. Freshly cooked beans taste a lot better than canned beans, and they have a lot less salt. So, now and then I will plan and cook some fresh beans. However, I always have a selection of no-salt canned beans in my pantry. They are just too convenient and ideal for a spontaneous meal.
If you do want to cook with dried beans, add epazote and garlic to the pot when you cook them. Just like beans cooked with a ham hock, epazote and beans are a perfect pair. The flavor is so distinctive it is hard to describe. It is herbal and similar to Mexican oregano with some medicinal characteristics. The flavor is unique and thus there is no good substitute for epazote. However, once you taste beans cooked in epazote you will always want to eat them prepared this way. I use dried epazote, as fresh epazote is hard to come by in the east coast. You can find it online or at a Mexican market.
To make the black bean filling for my tacos, I sautéed some onions and minced garlic until soft and added some crumbled dried epazote and Kosher salt. Then I added the cooked black beans. Because I love beans cooked with smoked pork, the epazote helps me forget about the lack of pork and smoky flavor whenever I cook vegan beans. I’ll think to myself, “Oh these beans are soo good.” Not, “you know what these beans need, some bacon.”
The next thing I did to give the black beans a creamy texture. I puréed about a third of the sautéed beans and onions to a somewhat smooth consistency, then added the purée back to the skillet with the beans. This emulsion made the beans into a spread preventing any loose beans from slipping out of the tacos. They are similar to refried beans but with more texture.
Spicy Winter Squash for Black Bean Tacos
The squash will take the longest to cook so I begin preparing the squash and cook everything else while they roast. I used kabocha squash, but butternut squash or pumpkin are good substitutes. Any winter squash is fine. The squash is where I punched up the flavor with lots of spices and ground chili pepper. Cayenne, cumin, ground coriander, ground garlic and Mexican oregano make up the spice mix. Whenever I roast vegetables and want a garlic note, I often use ground garlic because fresh minced fresh garlic will burn in a 400°F (200°C) oven. Nothing beats fresh garlic, but burnt garlic is very bitter.
Both the beans and the winter squash pair well with chili peppers, but I did not want to overdo it with the heat. Every meal needs a solid foundation to build from and the black beans are the structure from which the taco filling is built. If there is too much competition from the spices and chilies you can’t taste the food. Here, the bean filling and the winter squash do not compete for attention. The spicy winter squash nicely compliments the filling with its natural sweetness and spices. This flavor combination of chili heat with something sweet never ceases to amaze me.
Toppings for Black Bean Tacos
As I mentioned in my post about Fish Tacos, a taco is not a taco if avocados are not in them. I realize there are plenty of traditional tacos, like carnitas without avocado, but I look for any excuse to eat avocados and tacos is one of them. In all seriousness they fit with these tacos. Yet, with all these soft and creamy fillings something fresh to bite into is needed. Cucumber, iceberg lettuce and sliced radish are all great toppings with these tacos and a great way to get more vegetables in your meal. Or, serve them on the side in a salad with a citrus vinaigrette.
If you and your dinner companions eat dairy, I highly recommend using cotija cheese or feta cheese. The briny and salty flavors punch up the earthy flavors of the beans and winter squash. It adds a much-needed bit of acid to make every thing stand out. I could not find cotija, so I used feta cheese and loved it.
If you do not eat dairy, add pickled vegetables like onions or jalapenos to get that salty-briny punch.
The other toppings I believe make this black bean taco so special are peanuts and toasted hulled pumpkin seeds. They give some needed crunch to bite into between all the soft layers of beans and roasted squash and the nuttiness just fits right in.
I started with a purpose use up the beans and kabocha squash but as I progressed my primary focus was to create a meal for vegetarian and vegan diets. Even though my children do not live at home any more, they still inspire me to create meals I believe they would enjoy. Now I have even more inspiration from my growing family with the addition of daughters-in-law. While making these tacos it gave me great pleasure knowing my daughter-in-law and brother-in-law would particularly appreciate these black bean tacos. You don’t have to be a vegetarian or vegan to enjoy this dinner. These tacos are very fulfilling with great of depth of flavor built in. You will not miss the meat.
I do not have a vegan dessert of my own to recommend but try this vegan chocolate cake recipe from Food 52. For all other purposes, Yogurt Panna Cotta with Spiced Figs would pair nicely with these tacos and they can be made ahead. Or if you want a Mexican themed meal serve with Classic Margaritas and Double Coconut Pie.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Next to avocados, cold sesame noodles is one of my all-time favorite foods. Often, I crave that nutty sesame taste with light but rich silky noodles. My first introduction to sesame noodles happened during my college years when I was living in the West Village of New York City. I had very little money to spend so I often looked for food that was within my meager means. Next to spending $2 for a falafel sandwich, cold sesame noodles was the next best deal.
My favorite sesame noodles came from a tiny restaurant in China Town called Little Szechuan. These noodles were light and not weighted down with peanut butter and sesame paste. They also had a great spicy kick. To this day I have not had sesame noodles that even compare the Little Szechuan’s noodles. Often, I walked from my apartment on West Street in the Village to China Town just to have these spicy Szechuan noodles.
Little Szechuan was a tiny restaurant located in a remote area of China Town. At most it had a total of 6 tables and was located on a hidden narrow street leading to another meandering road. I can’t remember the name of the street or how I knew about it. Yes, it sounds odd to describe a place in Manhattan as “remote”, but they exist, even on an island populated with over 8 million people.
Because I adore anything made with sesame seeds, it is not a hard job researching and testing recipes for the perfect cold sesame noodles. My main criteria are, they are not thick and gloppy with peanut butter. I want to taste the toasted sesame and not be weighed down by a pasty sauce. However, peanut butter is an important ingredient in sesame noodles because it keeps the sauce emulsified, like Dijon mustard does in a vinaigrette. Without peanut butter, the tahini or sesame paste will taste chalky and dry.
As I researched and tested many recipes over the years, I discovered they usually share the same ingredients. The main difference is how many of the specialty Chinese ingredients are used vs a more available substitute. The main differences come down to the proportions of each ingredient to get the deep umami and spicy flavor without feeling like you just ate a brick.
Unfortunately, if you want to make cold sesame noodles you must buy some specialty ingredients. The primary ones are the dark sesame oil and the sesame paste or tahini. The other ones are easier to work around. For instance, instead of Chinese sesame paste use tahini. Black vinegar has a deep dark flavor that adds a nice element, but rice vinegar is much more common and affordable. I specified garlic chili paste but chili oil is as common in most recipes. Or you can make the garlic chili paste or chili oil if you prefer. It is a lot to think about and these ingredients do add up, so do what is best for you. The good news is, if you invest in buying some of the ingredients like sesame oil, it will keep for a long time in the refrigerator. Also, there are other recipes to use them in.
I am feeling guilty asking to buy all these specialty foods. Fortunately, some of them are easy to get at your grocery store and might already own them. Soy sauce, tahini (Jayva brand is usually next to the peanut butter), and natural peanut butter are widely available. Rice vinegar is also located in the grocery with the other types of vinegar, or in the International section.
The other crazy thing is the packaging of the noodles. Unlike dried Italian pasta, most Asian noodle brands come in different size packages. I have seen them in sizes ranging from 5 oz to 12 oz. However, the amount of dried noodles or pasta you buy does not need to be exact. It is my opinion, the amount of sauce in this recipe is perfect for 10 ounces of noodles. If you need to make more, just double or make one and a half times the amount of sesame sauce to nicely coat your noodles. After you made it once you will learn how much sauce you need. You can find Asian noodles at the grocery located in the International food section and at Asian markets. You can also buy as many packs of dried Ramen noodle soup you want and throw out the seasoning packet.
Serve cold sesame noodles with
Cold sesame noodles are great for family gathering, vegetarian meals, or vegan dinners if your noodles don’t have eggs. When I want a more substantial meal I add shredded pieces of cooked chicken to the noodles for some extra protein. Other vegetables like broccoli also taste great with cold noodles.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
The first time I saw my husband drowning his rice with soy sauce, I knew I needed to find a way to change this habit. No matter what we were eating if there was white or brown rice, the soy sauce came out of the refrigerator and set at the table. The irony is, he did not pour soy sauce on his rice when we ate Chinese food. For some reason, rice bathed in soy sauce really bothered me, especially when our sons followed his example. To me it was like adding a tablespoon of table salt to the already seasoned rice. All you would taste is the soy sauce and not the rice. Basmati or jasmine rice have such a clean flavor and is a lovely compliment for the main entrée at its side. It is a shame to disguise the clean flavor of this comforting grain.
From that moment, I changed the way I cook rice. Unless I am serving rice with a stew or a saucy entrée, I usually cook rice in vegetable or chicken stock and add some sautéed mushrooms and green peas. The mushrooms add subtle flavor and usually compliments the other parts of the meal. Even those perks can get mundane if it is a regular item with dinner. It is time to switch things up.
Recently, I discovered Patricia Wells’ recipe, Crunchy Jasmine Rice from Master Recipes, and I had to try it. Often, I garnish rice with pistachios or almonds and fresh herbs, but it never occurred to me to cook rice with nuts or seeds because I thought they would get soggy. Surprisingly, the peanuts kept their crunch after cooking with the rice. This recipe is brilliant in its’ simplicity and has an addictive nutty flavor. Besides the great taste, one of the best features of this jasmine rice is once the water boils, the rice cooks in 10 minutes. At first, I did not believe it, but it is true the rice cooks in 10 minutes. The rice wasn’t hard, mushy or chalky, just sweet grains of jasmine rice with the peanuts and seeds cooked to perfection.
The only change I made was to add fresh minced herbs like parsley and celery leaves. The fresh herb flavor gives an extra punch of sunshine to the nutty rice. The next time I make it I want to add some golden raisins soaked in red wine vinegar. The sweetness from the raisins and a touch of acid will really liven up this side dish.
Crunchy jasmine rice is a wonderful side dish with just about anything like grilled meats, roasts, chicken and fish. If you are allergic to peanuts substitute them with cashews, walnuts or hulled pumpkin seeds. Serve crunchy rice immediately or turn it into a rice salad with raisins, chopped vegetables and a light vinaigrette. Dress the rice salad right before you want to serve it.
Serve Crunchy Jasmine Rice With:
How to Make a Vegan Entrée with Crunchy Jasmine Rice
Most plant foods do not have all twelve of the essential amino acids, commonly known as the proteins. Vegetarian and vegan diets benefit from food combining. Honestly, all diets benefit from food combining. When eaten separately, legumes and grains come up short providing all 12 of the essential amino acids. When combined in one meal they compliment each other nutritiously and as well as flavor. What grains lack in essential proteins, legumes have. Jasmine rice mixed with peanuts and seeds become a foundation for a complete vegetarian meal.
I like to mix additional legumes like lentils with crunchy jasmine rice for a vegetarian or vegan main entrée. I add about 1 – 2 cups (250 – 500 ml) of cooked Du Puy, or Pardina lentils, to the bowl of crunchy jasmine rice. Then, I make a rice bowl with the rice and lentil mix and add some fresh and roasted vegetables. Top it off with some tahini dressing. Tahini dressing happens to be one of my favorite dressing and accentuates the nutty flavor of the rice.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.