Vegetarian Picadillo

Picadillo is Cuban comfort food at its best.  This Latin American version of ground beef hash is not too unhealthy, but it can easily be made more healthy, and even vegetarian, with some adjustments.  Inspired by my trip to Spiral Diner, even though it wasn’t the best experience, I decided to try a vegetarian version of the recipe.

Picadillo was one of the first Cuban dishes I learned to make because it is a one-pan recipe that is difficult to mess up and easy to customize.  Traditionally, picadillo is made with ground beef, green pepper, tomato, onion, garlic, potatoes, olives, raisins, and various seasonings. (There’s lots of variations, including this one, so this isn’t a strict recipe.) If you’re still feeling carnivorous, an easy way to make it healthier is to substitute ground beef for extra lean ground turkey.  With Spiral Diner in mind, I decided to give the recipe a vegetarian twist by substituting the ground beef with Morning Star Grillers Recipe Crumbles.  I also substituted regular potato for sweet potato for some of extra fiber and vitamin A.

This Vegetarian Picadillo was just as good as the turkey version I usually make.  I couldn’t really tell that I was not actually eating meat.  I also enjoyed the extra sweetness the sweet potatoes offered and its bright contrast to the subtle kick of cayenne.  There are also a couple advantages of vegetarian picadillo:  1) the veggie crumbles are cheaper than ground turkey and 2) since the crumbles are precooked, the recipe takes less time to make.
I ate my vegetarian picadillo with a side of brown rice and sliced avocado sprinkled with a little salt.  Usually I’d have picadillo with tostones (fried green plantains), but I wanted to keep the meal healthy.  My next experiment will have to be healthy tostones.
Ingredients
1 bag of Morning Star Grillers Recipe Crumbles (or extra lean ground turkey for non-vegetarians)
1 chopped green pepper
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 chopped cooked sweet potato (To save time, find cubed sweet potato in the freezer section)
1 chopped medium onion
3 tbls minced garlic
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives (sliced or whole)
1/4 cup raisins (I like to add a little more)
olive oil for sautéing
Seasoning:
salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper (or to taste, I like it with a kick)
Steps
1.  Heat up olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Add onions, pepper, and garlic and saute until soft.
2.  Add the can of chopped tomatoes and veggie crumbles and saute until cooked through (or add ground turkey and saute until browned and cooked through.)
3.  Add the seasonings, sweet potato, olives, and raisins and cook for another 5 minutes.
4.  Carefully taste and adjust seasonings.
5.  Serve with brown rice and enjoy!

Adventures in Hong Kong

There’s nothing like the smell of fermented beans on a chilly evening. Well, unless you count the tangy musty odor of an old boxing glove.  I exiled myself from the kitchen after my Japanese roommate over-nuked fermented beans in a defrosting attempt gone wrong.  It brought back the horrific memory of sniffing an old boxing glove before an MMA Bootcamp class at the gym: gagging and choking ensued.

I’m an adventurous eater, but the combination of this memory and my olfactory sense completely turned me from fermented beans and from my kitchen.  I went to my freshly Febreezed bedroom, Glade candle lit, with a sticky beer stein I got at Addison’s Oktoberfest filled with hot German Christmas wine.  And I could still smell it.

The fermented beans are one of the spoils (haha) from our shopping trip to Hong Kong Market, as Asian food store in North Dallas.  It’s located in a shopping center filled with Asian businesses, and on a gloomy Saturday afternoon we decided to see what we could find.  I love exploring ethnic food markets because there’s always something I’ve never seen before.
Hong Kong Market was no exception, and Hong Kong Market, like fermented beans, has a pretty distinctive smell itself.  Because of its fish section, the whole store smells somewhat like a fish market.  I got used to it quickly so it didn’t bother me.  It kind of reminded me of the smell of my grandfather’s bodega/butcher shop in New Jersey.  In my earliest memory of him, he is standing by the pastries in tall glass jars wearing his bloody white apron, letting me pick something out for free.
There are a ton of Asian products to choose from so it’s fun to browse.  The English translations on the packaging can be really amusing as well.  Most of the people shopping there were Asian so that’s a good sign.  The prices are on the low side, especially compared to buying Asian products in regular grocery stores, so I stocked up on things such as soba noodles and dried seaweed.  I was pleased to find old favorites, like the Koala cookies I used to like as a kid and puffy coconut milk snacks (bahn men?) that a college friend bought from home for me one time.  The produce section has some deals, but I eyed it warily since some of it didn’t look great.
We also bought a bamboo steamer on impulse which we immediately used for dumplings when we got home.  I’ve also since then steamed broccoli and salmon for a very healthy dinner.  I haven’t been to any other Asian grocery stores in Dallas so I have nothing to compare it to, but it seems to be an authentic place with a large selection.  I certainly wouldn’t mind going back next time the mood strikes for Asian cuisine, or I need to find something specific.
*It’s been an Asian-themed week. Check out my review of Deep Sushi on Yelp.
Spoils of my trip

Lasagna Has Never Been So Beautiful

I recently read an article about Gooey Wild-Mushroom Lasagna on the NYT website that I loved because it not only made me want to try the recipe immediately, but it also enveloped me in a lovely experience that brought back my own pleasant memories: watching the New York City skyline light up on a summer night, tearing up the dance floor at my friend Nakita’s lovely wedding, the smell of melting smoked gouda and crispy bacon while making mac & cheese for Thanksgiving…This Mushroom Lasagna is a recipe I am definitely going to have to try soon. Kudos to the writer Sam Sifton, and to Home/Made who dreamed up this lasagna.