Monday, September 21, 2015

Meatless to say, it's Delicious!

The unthinkable has happened. In my meat-centric household, my oldest kid has decided that meat is no longer an option. Gasp! My first question was to ask if The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair (a novel that exposed unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry in the early 20th century) was to blame? Nope. I still don't know what the catalyst was; but, it has created a challenge for me to satisfy both my newly vegetarian kid and my meat-and-potato husband. After a few laborious days of making two separate meals, I realized I needed to give meat the heave-ho on occasion for my sanity. I began searching vegetable-based cuisines and determined that Mexico could be the bridge that brings us all to the table, meatless yet satisfied!

For centuries, Mexico's cuisine was based on vegetables, grains, and legumes. In fact, contrary to popular belief, meat plays a minimal role in the day-to-day lives rather enjoyed on special occasions and Sundays. I've been relying heavily on my Rick Bayless cookbooks, enjoying some recipes and some not-so-much. I found one recipe in particular that was surprisingly delicious: "Garlicky Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Smoky Tomato-Chile Salsa!" Portobello mushrooms are first marinated in a flavorful onion/garlic/lime/cumin mixture then grilled alongside onions, tomatoes, and poblanos that become a wonderfully smoky salsa and compliment the mushrooms perfectly! A few corn tortillas, cilantro, and a dash of hot sauce is all that's required to create one of the best tacos you'll ever have. Drunken Pintos provide protein and round out the meal nicely. It's so good, no one will miss the meat!

Garlicky Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Smoky Tomato-Chile Salsa

Makes 12 tacos, serving 4 as a light meal

1 medium white onion, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds (keep the rounds intact for easy grilling)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon cumin, preferably freshly ground
6, 4 to 5-inch (about 1 3/4 pounds total) portobello mushrooms, stems removed and caps wiped clean (you can use a spoon to scrape out the dark gills on the underside of the caps, though it's not really necessary) (I scrape them out.)
A little vegetable or olive oil for the onion
12 ounces (2 medium-small round or 4 to 6 plum) ripe tomatoes
3 medium (about 9 ounces total) fresh poblano chiles
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
12 warm, fresh corn tortillas (I throw them on the grill a few seconds to heat them up.)

Marinating the Mushrooms
In a food processor or blender, combine 1/3 of the onion, the garlic, 3 tablespoons of the lime juice, the cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Process to a smooth puree. Lay out the mushroom caps in a nonaluminum baking dish. Using a spoon, smear the marinade over both sides of each mushroom cap. Cover and let stand for 1 hour, or store covered in the refrigerator up to 24 hours.

Preparing the Salsa
Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light a charcoal fire and let it burn until the coals are covered with gray ash and very hot. Either turn the burner(s) in the center of the grill to medium-low or bank the coals to the sides of the grill for indirect cooking. Set the cooking grate in place, cover the grill and let the grate heat up, 5 minutes or so.

Brush or spray the remaining onion slices with oil and lay in a single layer in the center (the least hot part) of the grill, along with the tomatoes. Set the chiles over the hottest part. Roast, turning everything occasionally, until the chiles' skin (but not the flesh) is blistered and uniformly blackened all over, about 5 minutes, and the onion and tomatoes are softened and browned in spots, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on their size and the heat. When the chiles are done, remove them and cover with a kitchen towel. (I put them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.) Set the tomatoes aside on a plate. Finely chop the onion and scoop it into a bowl.

When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, pull off their skins. Use a mortar to crush them, or place them in a food processor or blender and pulse until coarsely pureed. Add to the chopped onion.

Rub the blackened skin off the chiles, then pull out the stems and seed pods. Chop into small bits and stir half into the tomato-onion mixture along with the remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice and cilantro. Taste, season with salt, usually about 3/4 teaspoon, and then scoop into a serving bowl.

Grilling the Mushrooms
Remove the mushrooms from the marinade, spray or brush them with oil and lay grill side up over the hot part of the grill. Cook until browned in spots, about 5 minutes, then flip and move to the center of the grill-the cooler part-and continue grilling until they feel a little limp but still have some body, about 10 minutes more.

Serving the Tacos
Cut the mushrooms into 1/4-inch strips. Scoop into a warm serving dish and mix with the remaining chopped poblanos. Season with salt, usually about 1/4 teaspoon. 

Set the mushrooms on the table along with the salsa and hot tortillas-everything you need for making wonderful soft tacos.

Recipe from Mexico: One Plate at a Time, by Rick Bayless.