Mediterranean Guacamole

Guacamole made with rich late season avocados.

We live in the middle of an avocado grove in Southern California. You would have thought that since I have access to fresh avocados 9 months of the year, that I’d have more recipes using avocados. The problem is that we all like raw avocado in salad, and spread in sandwiches, and this version of guacamole so much, that we never really get much further than that! Yes, yes, I’ve tried making cold avocado soup, and putting it on pizza, but I just get strange looks from folks wondering why I’m wasting a good opportunity to eat it this way instead.

It just so happens that my family doesn’t care for very spicy foods. We like our guacamole without chili. (My sincere apologies go to anyone of Mexican heritage.) The black olives are not traditional either, but we think they’re a really good addition.

2 ripe avocados, sliced in half through the stem end, stone removed
1 fresh medium Roma tomato, diced (or equivalent volume of cherry tomatoes, cut into halves)
10 black olives (brined Greek, not the tasteless Californian variety which have been emasculated with lye), halved or quartered
1 tbsp finely chopped red onion (optional)
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped (optional)
salt and lemon or lime juice – to taste

Guac and chips

Scoop the flesh out of the avocados into a bowl. Roughly chop with the side of a fork or spoon (never emasculate guacamole by making it in the food processor).
Add the other ingredients and stir to mix. The avocado will lose its shape as you stir, and form the required lumpy puree quite easily.
Serve with tortilla chips, or in sandwiches.

…. but that last bit isn’t so easy on a gluten free diet. Tortilla chips look as if they should be a safe bet being made from corn, oil and salt, but I find that certain brands disagree with me. What’s frustrating, is that so far, the ones that disagree with me are the organic ones …. but there’s a mass market brand that gives me no problem at all. I can only guess that the big production lines have dedicated factories for tortilla chips.

The almond brioche bread (toasted or not) makes a great sandwich with guacamole and crunchy undressed green salad or coleslaw.

Cheddar Cheez

Faux Cheez with grapes

Last year, I bought The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook by Jo Stepaniak. The reviews on Amazon pretty much convinced me that it was a good idea, and I didn’t change my mind after it arrived. If you like cooking, and you can’t eat dairy, this book is a real eye-opener to new ingredients, and new uses for more familiar ones. I rushed around cooking as many of the recipes that I could source ingredients for. This one is based on one of my favorites from that book. Part of what’s so nice about it, is I don’t feel guilty eating it. Which sounds worse for your health? Cheese, or onions, carrots, and cashews?

The texture of this block cheez isn’t quite the same as dairy cheese (there is no crunch if you simmer for long enough), and it is well worth the effort to make it. The resulting cheez melts best when covered, as in quesadillas. This stuff rarely lasts more than a day in our household, so I usually double up the quantities; my kids eat it straight out of the fridge (and yes, ahem, so do I). A note to the wise, though: if you do double up the quantities, don’t try blending it all at the same time. You might be able to cook it all together, and you might be able to fit it in your blender, but it won’t blend properly with a double batch all together. If you use an immersion blender, however, there’s no problem at all.

You can also add an additional 1/2 cup of fried onions after blending if you want onion strands in your cheez.

2 tsps non-hydrogenated margarine
1/4 large yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled, then diced OR 1 large roasted red pepper, cleaned
1 1/2 cups (24 fl oz / 350 ml) water
5 tbsp agar flakes or 1 1/2 tbsp agar powder
1/2 cup (2 oz) raw cashews
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes (not the same as Brewer’s Yeast)
2 1/2 – 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice (or 1 1/2 tbsp lime juice)
2 tbsp sesame tahini
2 tbsp chickpea miso
2 tsps onion powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp honey mustard (or strong made mustard for cheddar cheez)

Melt the margarine in a saucepan and fry the onion and carrot until softened (this adds flavor, and reduces ‘crunch’).
While the onions are cooking, measure out the water in a measuring jug, and then add the rest of the ingredients to the jug.
When the onions are cooked, add the rest of the ingredients to the saucepan. Slowly bring the contents of the saucepan to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often until the agar has dissolved (5-10 minutes).
Lightly oil a 2.5 cup container.
When the agar has dissolved, blend well with an immersion blender. (If you use a surface top blender rather than an immersion blender, the cheez will cool and congeal fairly quickly, so work quickly.)
Pour into the plastic container and refrigerate until solid (>hour).

Rich Mushroom and Black Olive Sauce

I originally designed this rich, thick, mushroom sauce to be wrapped in a British style pancake (or a French galette), much like a weird burrito (and eaten with knife and fork), but we’ve since found that it is also an excellent topping for baked potatoes or chunky pasta.

This dish contains a chickpea miso which I think is marvelous. Miso is a diversely flavored ingredient. Some misos are very strongly flavored, some are salty, and some (like my favorite chickpea miso from South River) are mellow with a wine-y richness that I generally associate with cheese. I should tell you that I buy mine at the local health food store, as the shipping costs from buying it on line can be prohibitive. Obviously, the miso that you choose will have a major effect on the final flavor of the sauce.

4 oz (1 scant cup) raw cashews
1 tbsp margarine
1 lb mushrooms, thickly sliced
1/2 tsp salt (for the mushrooms)
1/2 cup black olives, halved
1 tbsp light chickpea miso
1 tsp white balsamic vinegar or lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt (for the sauce)
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of pepper/ cayenne pepper

Put the cashews and 1 cup (8 fl. oz.) of water into a blender, and process until the cashews have all been chopped. Put the mixture aside to allow the cashews to soak (for at least 1/2 hour, if possible).

In a large frying pan, melt the margarine, add the mushrooms, and sprinkle them with the 1/2 tsp of salt to draw out the juices. Fry the mushrooms over medium high heat until just softened (you might need to do this in 2 batches).

Add the black olives to the mushrooms in the frying pan.

Add the remaining ingredients to the cashews in the blender, and blend again to get a smooth, thick, sauce.

Stir the sauce into the mushrooms with another 4 – 8 fl oz (1/2 – 1 cups) of water. Bring the lot to a simmer to thicken the sauce, and serve.

Sufficient for 4 people when served with 12 oz of dried pasta, cooked.

Avocado and Corn Salad

Every year in the spring, Trader Joe’s sells potted basil plants for about the same price as a pack of fresh cut basil. I buy one and stick it in a large plant pot that sits outside our front door, and providing I can dissuade the snails, it produces fresh leaves for about 6 or 7 months.

This is a hearty, robust salad which works as a main or a side salad, and just begs for plenty of fresh basil. I particularly like it as a soft taco or sandwich filling.

2 tbsp orange muscat champagne vinegar
2 tblsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
small shake of cayenne pepper

3 cups frozen sweet corn kernels, defrosted
2 ripe medium sized avocados
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
black olives
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion

1 red pepper, seeds and stem removed, flesh diced
½ cup fresh basil leaves, torn
1 head romaine lettuce, shredded

Cut the avocado in half through the stem end and twist to separate. Hold the half with the stone in your left hand, and whack the stone with the middle of the knife blade so you can twist the stone out of the flesh. Cut the flesh into cubes, and use a spoon to scoop the cubes out of the skin.

Whisk all dressing ingredients together, then add salad ingredients and toss to coat. Serve within an hour or so such that the avocado doesn’t have a chance to go brown.

Hearty Garlicky Vegetable Salad

It has been hot again this week, so I have been serving up salads. Some of our favorite salads feature steamed and seared garlicky vegetables such as French green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Yes, I really did say Brussels sprouts in salad. My husband is one of the world’s Brussels sprout haters, unless they’re cooked this way.

The basic technique is to put vegetables which have been cut into similar sized pieces, into a pan with a small amount of water, some minced garlic, and some salt. Bring the lot to a simmer, and cook (adjusting the cooking time with the amount of water in the pan or a lid) such that the veggies are cooked by the time the water has all evaporated off. Add some oil or margarine (I use Earth Balance) to the pan, and let the cooked veggies brown on at least one side, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.

Watch out for evaporation of the vegetables themselves in this recipe (most notably when family walks past them as they’re cooling). I once had to make something else for dinner when the vegetables all disappeared before they were cool enough to be incorporated into the salad!

I really should point out that I use this recipe as more of an outline than an absolute. If I have broccoli and French green beans, but no Brussels sprouts, I use them instead. If I’m feeling virtuous, I leave off the dressing. Frozen French green beans work well too; they don’t need any water to cook, they just steam in their own ice melt with the garlic and salt. 🙂

12 oz Brussels sprouts, outside leaves removed, and cut in half (or prepared French green beans, or cauliflower, or broccoli)
1/2 tsp salt
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp Earth Balance margarine, or oil
1 ripe avocado
12 oz salad leaves (I used baby spinach for this rendition)
4 – 8 oz halved cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup black olives, halved
Lightly sweetened vinaigrette

Place the Brussels in 1/4″ water with the garlic and salt, cover and bring to a simmer. Once the sprouts are nearly cooked, remove the lid and allow the remaining water to evaporate off (conversely, if they need to cook longer, add more water), stirring as needed to prevent sticking.

Once the water has evaporated, add the oil/margarine, and fry the veggies for about 3-5 minutes until they have browned in places. Do NOT let the garlic burn.

Run a knife around the avocados from stem to bottom, and twist to separate the halves. Remove the pit by holding the avocado in your left hand, and whacking the middle of the knife blade into the pit and twisting it to release. While still in the skin, cut the avocado flesh into 4 or 5 slices top to bottom, and 4 or 5 slices side to side so that when you scoop the flesh out with a spoon, it comes out cuboid(ish).

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, tossing to coat with the dressing (if using).

Serves 2 as a main salad, 4 as a side salad.

Slightly Sweetened Vinaigrette for Bean Salads

This is the standard salad dressing in our household. I sometimes adjust it with 1/2 tsp honey mustard, but since we haven’t got fed-up with it, I’ve not bothered to change it. These days, I tend to double up the quantities and make it in my small blender (Magic Bullet), and then store the unused amount in the fridge for the next day.

The Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar I use comes from Trader Joes, but if you can’t get hold of it, then white balsamic vinegar mixed with a good squeeze of orange juice will do instead.

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp maple syrup or honey

Whisk together the olive oil and vinegar with a fork (or in a small blender) until emulsified.
Whisk in the remaining ingredients.
That’s it!

This vinaigrette is great for bean salads as the beans seem to benefit from the sweet lift.

Gluten Free Flour Tortillas

Pliant, delicious tortilla

In general, I’m not so keen on citing pre-made mixes in recipes, because companies go out of business, they don’t necessarily sell their product everywhere, and sometimes the nutritional value is questionable. However, I made an exception with this recipe (for now) because these tortillas really are very good, hot or cold. Later I will figure out how to replace the flour mixture with my own mix of flours. Later, later ……

The tortillas are pretty bland (which is a good thing here), and they are easy to cook. Make sure to cook them fairly quickly. If it takes you 10 minutes to cook each one, not only will you be hungry, but they will be stiff. By the time the pan is properly up to temperature, each side will take about 1 minute to cook. Makes 8 small tortillas, or 4 burrito size tortillas (but you do need a big frying pan for large tortillas.)

Since I first wrote this post, it has come to my notice that the tortillas come out better if the dough is blended by machine for a minute rather than by hand in order to develop the xanthan gum.

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Flour
2 tsps xanthan gum
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegan margarine (e.g. Earth Balance) or oil
3/4 cup (6 fl. oz) cold water

By hand:

Preheat a cast iron pan or griddle to medium heat.

Using oil rather than margarine makes this a quicker recipe.
Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl, and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon or butter knife until a soft dough is produced. Add a little more flour if necessary to stop it from being too sticky. However, a damp dough makes a softer, better, tortilla!
Kneed the dough for a minute to develop the xanthan gum (by hand or with the spoon/knife).
Cut the dough into 8 (or 4) equal sized pieces, and form into flattened balls.
Sprinkle the work surface with gluten-free flour, then roll the dough ball into a round disk about ⅛ inch thick.
Cook the tortillas one at a time on the cast iron pan until the top surface bubbles (about 1 minute once your pan is at the correct temperature).
Turn over once the first side has some brown flecks on it.
Cook the second side until it too has slightly browned.
Turn the tortilla out onto a plate covered with a clean kitchen towel (or paper towel); it will become softer while it waits.
Serve as a wrap, or quesadilla with faux cheez, or burrito covering.

By machine:

Preheat a cast iron pan or griddle to medium heat.

Combine all of the dry ingredients and margarine or oil in a small food processor.
Add the warm water slowly with the processor running, starting with 1/2 cup and then check the consistency.
Continue to add water until a soft, cohesive, slightly sticky dough is formed.
Cut the dough into 8 (or 4) equal sized pieces, and form into flattened balls.
Sprinkle the work surface with gluten-free flour, then roll the dough ball into a round disk about ⅛ inch thick.
Cook the tortillas one at a time on the cast iron pan until the top surface bubbles.

Bubbles forming on 1/2 cooked tortilla.

Turn over once the first side has some brown flecks on it.
Cook the second side until it too has slightly browned – about a minute once the pan is up to temperature.
Turn the tortilla out onto a plate covered with a clean kitchen towel (or paper towel); it will become softer while it waits.
Serve as a wrap, or quesadilla with faux cheez, or burrito covering.