Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bell Pepper & Beef Fiesta Skillet Bake

Today concludes Fiesta week in San Antonio-- a city-wide party that culminates in a Fiesta Friday holiday and colorful parades through historic downtown and the famous riverwalk. For the first time in 10 years I am in town to celebrate: hooray! I attended the lively King William Fair, watched the night-time Flambeau Parade, and cajoled my parents into joining me at Night in Old San Antonio, a party in the historic La Villita area with hundreds of food and drink booths set up to represent all the different cultures that have formed Texas. The most beloved food booth is Maria's Tortillas, where seasoned tortilla makers slap together masa flour dough to make thousands of tortillas over charcoal burning stoves. Fresh off the coals and filled with cheese and salsa, they are the quintessential melt-in-your-mouth taste of old San Antonio. Everyone carries around their NIOSA cups filled with margaritas, beer, or raspas, eats freshly-made food, and dances to live music while trying to crack cascarones (dyed eggshells filled with confetti) over friends' heads.
bell peppers, corn, black beans, and ground beef topped with avocado and cheese
make a gluten-free, one-skillet meal
In the spirit of this festive holiday, I made a Tex-Mex inspired cast iron skillet bake filled with bell peppers, corn, black beans, and ground beef, and topped with avocados and cheese. I served the skillet straight out of the oven to the table, with bowls of plain yogurt and salsa so people could help themselves to toppings. This gluten-free meal was hearty and delicious, and could easily be adapted to whatever you have on hand/like to eat. Leave out the beans, corn, and cheese for a paleo-friendly version, skip the meat for a vegetarian version, etc. If you don't have prepared fajita seasoning on hand, there's a great homemade recipe here. And if you don't have a cast-iron skillet, this would work just as well prepared over the stove top in a large skillet, then either top with the avocado and cheese and cover for a few minutes until the cheese melts, or place the beef and pepper mixture in a pie plate or casserole dish to top with the avocado slices and cheese for the final quick pop in the oven.

Enjoy these flavors wherever you are, and think of the cultural traditions that make your hometown come together to celebrate. Viva Fiesta!

Bell Pepper & Beef Fiesta Skillet Bake
Serves 4-5

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow or white onion
1 lb ground beef
two tablespoons tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 teaspoons fajita seasoning (divided use)
two bell peppers, any color, diced (or thinly sliced with a spiralizer)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn (thaw if frozen)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 avocado, thinly sliced
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

To Serve:
1/2 cup salsa
1/2 cup plain/Greek yogurt or sour cream

Preheat oven to 400F/ 205C.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet (at least 10 inches) over medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onion, and saute 5-7 minutes, until translucent and beginning to brown. Add 1 teaspoon of fajita seasoning and the ground beef, breaking it up into small pieces, and stirring to brown it evenly, about 5-6 minutes. Once the meat has cooked through, add the tomato paste, and stir to distribute. Remove the beef mixture from the skillet into medium sized bowl, set aside.

To the hot skillet add the garlic, sauteing for 1 minute, then add the bell peppers, corn, and another teaspoon of fajita seasoning. Saute until the peppers begin to soften, 4-5 minutes. Add the black beans and stir to incorporate. Add the beef mixture back to the skillet, and stir gently to evenly distribute the beef through the vegetables. (Taste the mixture at this point, and add a bit more fajita seasoning or a pinch of salt if you'd like).

Top the skillet mixture with the sliced avocados and shredded cheese. Place in the oven and bake at 400F/ 205C for 5 minutes, until cheese is melted. Serve immediately with salsa and yogurt or sour cream.

Serving Tip: Tex-Mex dishes are often served with a simple salad of shredded lettuce topped with a dollop of guacamole and chopped tomatoes. This would be the perfect side for this hearty skillet bake.

Storage Tip: leftover skillet bake will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Baked whole red snapper with lemons and garlic

The first time I was ever presented with an entire baked fish to eat was in Haiti. I had just landed after a re-routed flight from Capetian to Port-au-Prince then back to Capetian (cattle on the runway, apparently), and was experiencing all kinds of new culture overstimulation just from the ride through the city via tap-tap from the airport to a place to eat. So when my plate turned up and the eyes of a fish were staring right back at me, I was a little stunned as to how to approach the meal. That was the first of many new culinary and cultural experiences in Haiti, and it all turned out better than I could have imagined. I loved the warmth of the people I met and their willingness to introduce me to their country and local customs.

In Australia we baked whole fish quite often. It's very easy to prepare when your fishmonger does the dirty work for you (gutting and descaling), and it always makes for a striking presentation at the table. We often serve it up directly off of the baking paper, but you could also transfer the fish to a platter and surround it with steamed or roasted vegetables.
baked red snapper, fresh from the oven and ready to to eat
The method below simply combines lemon slices, garlic, and some fresh parsley, but feel free to add whatever spices, herbs, or rubs you have on hand. Tomato slices are also delicious when baked in and around the fish. By baking in parchment paper the fish stays very moist while cooking through. Change this recipe up to suit your taste, and enjoy the looks on the faces of your fellow diners when you serve up an entire fish at the table!

Baked whole red snapper with lemons and garlic
Serves 4

1 whole red snapper (about 2 lbs, or 900g), gutted and descaled
1 lemon, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons butter, softened and chopped into chunks
pinch of freshly ground sea salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 390F / 200C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Tear off another sheet of parchment paper the same size and set aside.

Place about half of the lemon slices and half of the garlic slices onto the paper-lined baking tray, and place the fish on top. Place half of the butter, a few of the lemon slices, half of the parsley, and the remaining garlic slices into the cavity of the fish (where the guts were). Dot the remaining butter over the top of the fish, and place the remaining lemon slices on top. Sprinkle the salt, pepper, and parsley over the top. Place the second sheet of parchment paper over the baking tray, and crimp all four edges together with the bottom sheet of parchment paper.

Bake the fish at 390F / 200C for 35 minutes, then remove the top piece of parchment paper and return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes. The fish is done when the flesh from the center flakes easily with a fork.

Serve immediately (warning everyone to watch for bones as they eat!).

Storage tip: Remove any remaining fish from the bones, and store in an airtight container in the fridge for 1-2 days.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Roasted butternut & purple onions with tahini sauce & toasted pine nuts

Welcome to 2015 from Southern Spoon. In the spirit of positive and healthy starts, this year begins with a delicious dish that showcases roasted winter vegetables, dressed simply with fresh herbs, toasted nuts, and tahini sauce. This colorful platter of veggies will entice even the most stalwart of your hard to please low-vegetable eaters. One of my goals is to incorporate even more, and more variety, of vegetables into every meal.

This recipe is one of many that I prepared with my mom and sister from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's incredible cookbook Jerusalem, which I gifted to my sister for Christmas. We loved reading through Ottolenghi's portrayals of this ancient city's cuisine, which is deeply wrapped up in its culture-- a culture that is unfortunately so often the target of persecution, as we saw in Paris last week.
roasted butternut, purple onions and dressed with a creamy tahini garlic sauce
and sprinkled with parsley and toasted pine nuts for an easy, attractive, delicious side dish
The next couple of posts will celebrate the multicultural influences that make some of my favorite dishes absolutely delicious. How sad, and how dull, would it be for us all to live in a monocultural world? May our actions this year provide a little more understanding and tolerance and many special moments shared over food and drink with friends and family, who are each beautifully different than we are. Cheers from Texas.

Roasted butternut & purple onions with tahini sauce and toasted pine nuts
Serves 8
Adapted from Jerusalem

1 butternut squash, sliced into 4x1 inch wedges (skins can be removed or left on)
2 purple onions, sliced into 1/2-inch wide wedges
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4cup pine nuts
pinch each of freshly ground salt and pepper

Tahini sauce:
3 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons water
1 clove garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 475F / 240C. While the oven is preheating, make the tahini sauce. Whisk together sauce ingredients, adding enough water until the mixture is the consistency of runny honey. Set aside.

In a large bowl, carefully toss the squash and onions with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Arrange squash and onion evenly on the greased baking tray in a single layer. Roast at 475F / 240C for 30-40 minutes, until onions are beginning to brown around the outer edges and squash is cooked through. In the last 3-5 minutes of roasting, place the pine nuts in a separate baking tray and place them in the oven with the vegetables to toast, watching closely to ensure they don't burn.

Arrange the squash and onion onto a serving platter, sprinkle parsley and pine nuts over the top, and drizzle the tahini sauce over the vegetables. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Storage tip: these roasted vegetables and sauce will keep, covered in the fridge, for 3-4 days.