Madison, WI is famous for its summer festivals. There is at least one grand one per month that attracts a hungry crowd. You see, at all of these fests, there are a lot of food carts. Some of these are extensions of restaurants that most people can’t get to for lunch. Some of these are carts all on their own with specialties like cheese curds, falafel, more falafel, and 42 other places that I can’t think of right now.
While celebrating what bookends the season for me at the Willy St. Fair this summer, I had the pleasure of experiencing, for the first time, arepas—an unassuming corn disc stuffed with black beans, plantains, and cotija cheese—from the Caracas Arepas food cart.
Sometimes, when I discover something new, I get kinda pissed off that it took so long for me to find it. This exact thing happened with the aforementioned falafel, nearly 20 years ago at the same festival.
I get a little fixated on certain things, and this little maize pocket of goodness is no exception. So, I set about recreating this “simple”, homey, delectable delight—I quoted simple because it only has three ingredients, but it needs to be perfect.
I spotted the flour on the bottom shelf at Woodman’s and my eyes lit up like a kid’s on Christmas morning. I had pictured looking for one of those little boxes of polenta, but A WHOLE POUND?! Do you even KNOW how many arepas that will produce?! I don’t, actually. But I know it’ll be a lot.
I let a couple of weeks go by cuz I like to ruminate over some things (and elope to Mexico over others) and then decided it was time to dive in. I whipped up a batch of Braulio’s beans and got to work searching YouTube for instructions. I found The Frugal Chef and her arepas video. Water, a little salt, and flour. “Simple.”
I don’t have an action shot of me making the patties, cuz it takes two hands, but it’s important not to overwork the dough cuz that makes them less fluffy inside and then they won’t want to become pockets (you’ll see my solution to this shortly).
I pulled out my Green Pan griddle (holy crap, it’s more than twice the cost now) and let some butter dance around on it before gently placing these cakes of wonderfulness onto the surface.
After a short while—probably five minutes—I flipped them and put some more butter down in case Side A soaked it all up. Side B should look roughly like the above, and if done correctly, you should be able to slice it crossways and stuff it with beans. This batch turned out a little close-textured (as Mary Berry might condescend), so instead of putting the beans inside, I simply plated them on top! Problem solved. I’m not letting a little overworked dough get in the way of putting these in my face.
Top with cotija cheese and dig in.
Since I will never tire of Mexican or Hispanic foods, I thought I ought to throw together some Elotes.
Wisconsin’s corn on the cob season was quickly drawing to a close, but we were still able to grab a few ears. My intention was to grill them on the, well, grill… but, it wasn’t a beautiful summer evening (in fact, it was a freezing fall night), and fixing up the grill for corn seemed too much work. So, I used the next best thing: a gas stove!
Five roasted cobs later, I carefully sliced the kernels off into a bowl. A bowl already prepared with Mexican crema, mayonnaise, cotija, and Chili powder. Stir it up, throw in a little salt and pepper, and serve.
Tasty, corny, and very much worth the effort*.*This recipe does not include ingredients or instructions for whatever you want to put in, on, or around your arepas.
Course: Main Course, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine: Hispanic, Mexican
1tspchili powderchipotle, preferably
2cmasarepa (precooked corn flour)
Roast the cobs either on the grill or gas stovetop until an appropriate amount of grill marks appear. Stand a cob on one end and slice the kernels off from top to bottom, leaving none behind. Repeat until cobbed out.
While the cobs are roasting, mix together the rest of the ingredients in a medium bowl.
Stir in kernels and pop into the fridge to cool.
In a large bowl, dilute the salt into the warm water. Gradually add flour and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough is pliable enough to use your hands. Mix with hands, being careful to not overwork the dough. Leave to rest for 5 minutes.
Make a ball with the dough and work between hands to form a patty—mix oil and water in a bowl to coat your hands to keep the dough from sticking—keeping the edges smooth.
Heat a griddle and melt butter. Put patties on the griddle until golden brown spots appear on one side. Keep flipping until both sides are nice and golden.
Slice and stuff with your favorite anything and eat it like a sandwich. Alternatively, top with that same anything and eat it with a fork. Adiós!
Seitan isn’t for the faint of heart; nor the gluten-intolerant. It’s made from wheat gluten, the endosperm of the wheat berry, to be precise. Wheat gluten is chock full of protein and, when cooked, makes a really nice meaty substitute. You can also use it as a binder for vegetarian meatballs or meatloaf. Maybe I’ll put that on the “To Make” list.
My favorite seitan recipe comes from Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day. I made quite a few modifications, both because I wanted to be able to publish the recipe and because it’s not gyro-specific.
The one thing I miss from eating four-legged-meats 100 years ago is a Zorba’s gyro (they were waaaay better than Parthenon’s). The peppery meat constantly turning and dripping and shaved to order onto an olive-oily pita, topped with onions that were too big, lots of tomatoes, and dripping with tzatziki sauce. Of course, the fries were required to soak up the drips. One barely needed any ketchup.
Anyhoo. Seitan! It’s some wheat gluten, nooch, a little bitta chickpea flour and lots of yummy seasonings. I didn’t take pictures of this process because, well, it’s not very photogenic.
Once the seitan is done and cooled (a process that takes 8 hours to cook and about the same to cool), you slice it up and grill it in a pan. I ended up squirting it with Bragg’s Aminos, which provides the saltiness that soy sauce has, but it’s “better for you”.
While that’s cooking or even the day before, the tzatziki sauce can be prepped (most things are better after sitting around in the fridge for a while). I used a small container of fat-free Fage Greek yogurt, a little bit of cucumber, dried and minced garlic, and some lemon juice.
Chop an onion and a tomato and heat the pitas over the burner and you’ve got yourself a delicious facsimile of a Zorba’s gyro. Minus the yelling and grease.
In a large bowl, combine the flours and nutritional yeast.
Put everything else (except the broth) into a food processor and combine.
Mix the spices into the dry ingredients and add the 1 1/4 cus of broth to mix everything together. If it's too wet, add more gluten, if it's too dry, add more broth.When it's all combined, make it into a loaf-shape and wrap with cheesecloth to keep it that way. Place into a slow cooker and cover with the remaining 6 cups of broth. Cook on low for 8 hours. Let it cool in the broth.
Mix everything together. Let it rest.
Slice the seitan into meatly shapes and cook in a grill pan over medium until it's crispy on the edges. Spritz with Bragg's Aminos for color and salt.
Heat the pitas in a toaster oven or on the stovetop. Assemble with seitan first, sauce, onions, tomatoes. Serve with extra napkins.
My neighbor just got a bunch of really nice landscaping done on the side of her house that I can’t see. The other night, she brought me over to show me all the basil and mint and thyme and wonderfulness that she had put in. It’s not all edible, but most of it is.
Anyway, she said, “take all the basil you want!” referring to a holy basil bush that was roughly the size of a kitchen table. I said that I would because I was seeing my mom for brunch the next day and she loves holy basil. Well, apparently, mom has enough of it, too.
This morning, I got a text that neighbor had left some on the back porch. I replied that I looked forward to turning it into pesto.
After 136 years of picking leaves off stems, I ended up filling the 2 qt. Pampered Chef mixing bowl.
I cleaned up a bit and assessed the pesto ingredient needs, pulling the lemon juice, pine nuts, and parm out of the fridge. I decided to use EVOO instead of another fancy oil. I popped three garlic cloves off the head and peeled them.
Since the food processor will be busy making swift work of the basil and pine nuts, it’s best if you use the smaller side of the cheese grater for the parm.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any action shots because I was mostly worried about how I was going to get all of this pesto made without it taking another 136 years.
I scooped two loose handfuls into the Hamilton Beach 8 Cup Food Processor, sprinkled some lemon juice, tossed in a garlic clove, poured in about 1/8th of a cup of pine nuts, and did a swoosh of oil. These steps were repeated three times until I ran out of basil and did one last spin with salt and pepper added.
I haven’t made pesto in a long time, and don’t care at all for the jarred variety (it’s too oily and salty). This turned out, if I may say so, perfect.
Added bonus: it was exactly enough to fill one of my silicone ice cube trays.
Before I cleaned off the cutting boards, I harvested enough basil seeds to plant next year with our bucket tomatoes.
This is based primarily on a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen’s Make-Ahead Cookbook, which my mom gifted me for Christmas one year. It’s full of wonderful ideas for preparing dinner, lunch, and dinner and ways to get more meals out of your shopping list. It also gives ideas for freezer meals and slow cooker meals (good ideas for summertime—save the delicious Wisconsin sweet corn and don’t turn on the oven).
This is a fairly simple put-together dish; the only thing that gives it a second eggplant is that you need to blanch the asparagus. The bonus here is that you use the same water to boil the asparagus as the tortellini!
Speaking of, it’s time to start the water boiling. Whoever discovered heat+water=cooked food should be lauded for their curiosity and intuition.
With asparagus, I usually do the bend-til-it-breaks trick, but this time I decided to simply cut enough off the bottom, letting the knife tell me where the woody part starts. I think I didn’t want to be disappointed in how much I paid for it (this veggie is usually priced per pound), and I already have two baggies of ends in the freezer waiting for me to decide to make cream of asparagus soup.
When the water bubbles, pop the greens in and set a timer for two minutes. Grab your trusty stainless steel bowl and put in some ice cubes; then, I usually keep the bowl in the freezer until the last second.
When the timer says so (in my case, it’s Alexa beepity-beeping at me), pull the bowl, fill mostly with cold water, and start slotted-spooning the asparagus into it to stop the cooking process. Let the pot on the stove come back to a boil.
Now it’s dressing time. I’ve mentioned before that making your own dressing is cheaper, better, and faster than buying bottled, and there’s no HFCS hiding at the top of the list, or Yellow #5 and Maltodextrin hiding at the bottom.
The dressing contains a delicious amount of minced shallot and garlic.
In a two-cup bowl, I squirt some lemon juice and realize I’ve run out, so I finish off the acidic liquid with some white wine vinegar. Because I’ve opted to use Lighthouse Farms freeze-dried Italian spices (do not buy this from Amazon, it’s too expensive—I’m sure your local Penzey’s store has a suitable alternative), I pour it in to let it rehydrate for a minute, then add the alliums. Whisk in the olive oil and let sit until everything else is assembled.
Slice up enough cherry tomatoes and put the asparagus into a medium bowl and add salt and pepper.
To add a little bit of smooth crunch (I get the opposition, but pine nuts do that), roast a handful of pine nuts.
Since the tortellini is “fresh” (from Costco), it only takes about two minutes to boil (did I mention this dish comes together so quickly it’s almost silly?) so it’s the last thing to cook.
While it’s boiling, grate some parm and try to contain yourself.
Strain the pasta and rinse with cold water so it doesn’t melt the Parmesan. Pour into the bowl, add the dressing and shredded cheese. Stir carefully so as not to break the little pockets of cheesy amazingness.
This is a quick side, a lifesaver on a cold winter day, and we can’t be friends if you don’t have the ingredients available in your pantry (actually, I don’t care for it when folks make that exclamation, so we can still be friends, regardless).
Butter, onion, tomatoes.
That’s it, have a great day!
Grab your 3- or 4-quart Dutch oven (even if you’re only making a small amount, I’ll explain later) and put some butter in there over medium heat.
Slice an onion into very large pieces and sauté for five minutes or until soft.
Dump in one can of diced tomatoes for every two people who will end up with a serving. For each pair of folks, fill up one can with water, veggie, or chicken broth and pour into the vessel (*this is where the three-ingredient-claim kinda falls down, but I would contend that the recipe is great, even if it’s four ingredients).
Bring to a simmer, cover, and set a timer for 30 minutes.
Grab your immersion blender and zip it into a smooth soup. This is where using the smallest Dutch oven isn’t the best idea. Immersion-blending it in a 2-quart will result in splattered shirts and faces.
Serve with a side of grilled cheese or tuna melts.
Sweet corn stands on back highways are the epitome of summertime in Wisconsin. Ears and ears stuffed in a brown paper bag for $6. You’d be silly not to get some, cook, and freeze it for January when the mere thought of wearing shorts gives ya chills.
Woodman’s has three-for-$1 right now, so we’ve been enjoying the treat each Sunday night with chicken on the grill.
Put all three ears (why are they called ‘ears‘ anyway?) in the microwave and set it for six minutes. When it beeps, grab the ears with a hot pad and lay on a cutting board with the business end ready to cut.
More about those strands, or “hairs”: there’s one strand for every kernel on the cob, so that’s a bit of an indication of how many healthy kernels there are, hiding in there.
After you slice the end off, grab the other end (with a hot pad), and slowly squeeze the ear out of the husk.
Pushing the cob out keeps the hairs from sticking around, which makes it so much easier to eat.
Butter and salt (if you’re like the fella), plate. Crunch.