Sunday, June 24, 2012

Grilled Vegetables For Your Next BBQ

During the summer months most of our weekends are booked with back-to-back barbecue invitations. Either you are inviting friends and family over for a barbecue or someone else invited you to the park, or the beach, or to their backyard for some grub.  The star of the menu is most often than not meat, meat, and dare I say more meat.  You always find your basic burger/hot dog combo with some chicken and some steak while fruits and vegetables are relegated to the side dish role in your BBQ.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my churrasco or skirt stake on the grill, but so much meat can be overwhelming.   Corn on the cob should not be the only non-meat food available at your BBQ.  So the next time you throw a BBQ remember that the summer months are when supermarkets and farmer's markets carry the freshest fruits and vegetables.  Just imagine how much better all of your fruits, yes fruits, and vegetables will taste on the grill. 

Unfortunately at the moment I don't own a grill, I've been looking to get this  Weber Q 100 Liquid Propane Table/Outdoor Grill - 386002.  It has some of the best reviews on Amazon and because I might not always have a backyard I want something that is easy to move around and will hopefully not take up too much space.  On the other hand, I also love charcoal grilling, so I also fell in love with the Weber Charcoal Go-Anywhere Grill.  This one also has amazing reviews and is thankfully in my budget range, so I think when the time comes this will be the one I get.  

Since I don't have a grill, I went with the next best thing and used the oven.  I also could have used a cast iron skillet to arrive at the desired charring effect but at least I still got the same juiciness and crispiness.  I'm learning as I go here so bare with me.

I have to be totally honest and tell you that I went about grilling my vegetables the wrong way.  I was making my Kale & Beet Leaf Chips recipe when I decided that I also wanted to grill some vegetables.  I placed the veggies in the middle rack of the oven and used the top rack for my kale chips.  Kale chips are prepared at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  After the chips were done, which took about 10 minutes, I moved my vegetables to the top rack and that's when they really started to get crispy.  The right way to grill vegetables in the oven requires that you set your oven at really high heat.  I didn't know this until I visited a couple of blogs online.  I still got the desired results, my veggies turned out crispy and juicy, it probably just took me longer at the temperature I was using.

The below recipe will work for your grill, your cast iron pan, and your oven, the main take away here is that we need to start grilling vegetables and enjoying them more often.  I bought beets, summer squash and carrots at the farmer's market which turned out really sweet and crispy.  The summer squash turned out crispy on the outside but the inside was just juiciness.   I also found some snow peas in the fridge but I didn't like how they turned out in the oven.  They lost their original crispiness.  At the end it really doesn't hurt to try any type of vegetable, you'll figure out if you don't like it afterwards.

Grilled Vegetables
Olive oil
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Alternative ingredients
Minced garlic
Cajun seasoning
Red pepper flakes
Your choice of herbs (rosemary, basil, thyme, etc..)

Here is a list of veggies you could use for grilling: Asparagus, broccoli, beets, carrots, summer squash, any type of pepper, tomatoes, onions, the list goes on.

  • Set your stove top cast iron skillet or your grill to medium heat.  
  • For your oven, recommends that you preheat your oven to between 500 and 550 degrees Fahrenheit.  The site recommends that you use a cast iron skillet or a grill pan, but I used a baking sheet pan and covered it with aluminum foil.  
Tip 1 - You shouldn't feel like you have to go run off and buy something you don't have.  I didn't have a grill, or a cast iron skillet, so I used a baking sheet and the oven.  Sometimes it's best to work with what you have.
  • Add olive oil to a small container, 1/4 cup should do, and with a brush start to coat your vegetables.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • If you have additional ingredients now is the time to sprinkle them onto your vegetables.
  • If you prefer, you can also mix the oil with your additional ingredients.  With the brush you will get an even coating of your seasoning on your vegetables.
Keep an eye on your veggies as they grill.  Your cooking time will range from between 5 to 10 minutes.  Peppers might take a little longer, while asparagus might take no time at all to cook.

Tip 2 - For dessert, why not grill some fruit instead of eating cake.  If it's a super hot day, take a scoop of ice cream or gelato and place some of your favorite charred fruit on top.  YUM!


After I finished my delicious dinner of veggies and only veggies I ended up with a lot of leftover vegetables.  I knew I was going to be eating them pretty soon, so I stored them in a container in the refrigerator.  If there is one thing you need to know about my family is that we don't like throwing out food or leaving it in the fridge forgotten.  If you cooked too much, well then you can eat it for breakfast the very next morning or take it to work for lunch.  I went with option one and used my leftover ingredients to make a recalentado for breakfast.  You make a recalentado by "reheating" whatever you  made the day before.  This usually involves a mixture of leftover rice and beans with scrambled eggs.  I once had some leftover rice and mixed it with an egg for breakfast and my boyfriend's father thought I was nuts.  As a Latina, I say this with much love, but we need to start eating rice in moderation!  I love my curves but I don't need to add to them by gorging on rice all the time.  That's why I started to cut my consumption of rice to less than one cup (8 ounces) a day.  As an alternative to this recalentado, skip the white rice and make it with some brown rice.  You can also chop your vegetables a little finer or add some crumbled tofu to supplement the rice all together.  Either way the sweetness of these grilled vegetables will outshine all other ingredients and make for a perfectly healthy and filling treat.   
  • Chop your veggies into small or large chunks (whatever style you prefer)
  • Heat a frying pan with a tablespoon of olive oil, set to medium heat.
  • Let your vegetables saute for about 5 minutes.
  • If you have left over rice around add it to the pan after about 3 minutes, you want to give the veggies time to saute on their own.
  • Add eggs (cage free) - The number of eggs you use depends on the amount of veggies you chopped and the number of people you are feeding.  (I only like having one egg for breakfast so that's all I used).
  • Mix everything together and you have yourself a grilled vegetable egg stir fry.
Buen provecho! =)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Spaghetti Squash with Salmon and Basmati Rice

Oh Spaghetti Squash, Where have u been all my life?

I first tried spaghetti squash a couple of months ago and I couldn't believe how amazing the texture was, the subtle sweetness, the way it made the dish lighter and healthier than it otherwise should be. How could I have lived a good portion of my life without it? Can't say I know much about squashes, the only other squash I use with confidence is butternut squash. But still, I felt like a hermit having stumbled onto civilization.

I can just think of about a million things I want to do with it, and one of them is this very recipe. Like I previously said, it has been a while since I last saw one in the farmer's market or in the store. This squash is usually a winter variety, and not too long ago I almost bought one at a local grocery store until I found out they were trying to charge me $8 for a small one. I convinced myself that I would just have to wait for winter, until I saw it again last week while wandering through Whole Foods during my lunch break. I spotted this spaghetti squash for about $1.50/lb. I snatched it in a heart beat! I don't buy much in Whole Foods unless it's on sale and I was not going to wait for them to change their mind on the price. I was finally going to get my chance to make something with this beautiful squash.

That same day I also found some wild caught sockeye salmon fillet on sale for about $11.99/lb. That may sound expensive, because it truly is, but it usually goes for about $16/lb. I call it my once every three to six month treat, so when you see it on sale I highly recommend making the investment. Even if not on sale, cut out some of the junk food from your grocery list and get this baby instead. If you buy a half lb or 8 ounces you are getting two 4 ounce steaks. Believe it or not that's the recommended portion size for most meats, and it's perfect for this recipe. 

Another great thing about this salmon, besides the fact that it has a ton of omega 3's, is that it comes from fisheries that are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. We sometimes forget about the impact we have on our environment, and how we choose the foods that we consume has as much an impact as anything else we do to help save the environment. I know most of the vegetables I ate as a kid in Colombian were bought at the local mercado or market which was sold by local farmers. Even grocery stores carried local produce. It might be a new trend in the United States but most of our families grew up buying local produce before it became a fad here. The greater the demand for healthier and environmentally conscious foods, the more pressure we put on major producers to make this the norm and not the exception.

Now that I finished my environmentally conscious rant, I will proceed to tell you how amazing this salmon is  in comparison to its plain vanilla counterpart.  It's just fresher and fleshier than what you are probably accustomed to buying.  From what I've read its bright pink color has a lot to do with the diet and the size of the salmon that grow in the Northern Pacific.  The wild ones tend to be larger and fattier, which also means juicier.  I think that's what sets them the most apart, that one is wild while the other is farmed, and that probably gives them that refreshing taste.   There's very little you have to do with this salmon, it's good all on its own.  Before I used to think that the bright pink color might mean it has more nutrients, but that might not be the case.  Some fisheries, the ones where you don't want to get your salmon from, tend to feed the salmon die to give them a pink color.  Something worth thinking about the next time you buy salmon.  

So now that we have two amazing ingredients I decided to make Spaghetti Squash with Sockeye Salmon. I added Basmati rice to this recipe because I was craving it, but a nice summer salad with a hint of lemon would be a better pairing for the salmon. Maybe even a simple diced cucumber and tomato salad with salt and pepper to taste plus the juice of half a lime.

I created this dish to celebrate my 5 year anniversary with my boyfriend Brian. He loved it, I loved it, and I hope you will love it too.

Spaghetti Squash with Sockeye Salmon
Serves 2

1 small/medium spaghetti squash
1/2 lb of salmon with skin
2 cloves of garlic (if you have also use roasted garlic)
1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese or crumbled feta cheese
1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
A pinch of dried oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil, and/or red pepper flakes for some heat (anything you can find in your cabinet works)


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit 
  • Cut spaghetti squash in half. With a spoon take out the seeds (don't throw them out, set aside) 
  • In the cavity of each spaghetti squash half place a table spoon of olive oil. Add a pinch of each of your favorite herbs. If you want some heat add some red pepper flakes. I used rosemary, thyme, and basil. 
  • Mince the garlic and add an even amount for each half. I also had some roasted garlic so I smashed a clove of roasted garlic in each cavity. 
  • Add salt and pepper to your liking 
  • With your hands mix all of the ingredients and rub them all over the inside and edges of the squash, don't rub it on the skin. 
  • Once the oven is ready, place each half with the cavity facing up and leave in the oven for 20 minutes.

Tip 1 - If there is one thing I hate more than anything when using an oven, is to use it and only make one thing at a time.  If I can make multiple things at once, then I'm spending less money on gas and being more energy efficient.  Here are a few of the foods you can prepare that won't cause any added stress to make.
Directions continued...

After the 20 minute mark you have a few choices and it all depends on how you like to eat your salmon.

If you like it well done, then this is the time where you take out your spaghetti squash and add the salmon.
  • Make sure you cut your salmon steak so that it fits into the cavity of the spaghetti squash. 
  • Rub some salt and pepper to your liking all over the salmon. Rub a little bit of olive oil on the skin, but only enough to give it a shiny coat. 
  • Place the salmon skin side up inside the cavity of the squash, this will enable it to get a nice and crispy skin, which I LOVE! 
  • You will notice some olive oil squash juice in the cavity, DON'T REMOVE!, that's only going to add flavor to your salmon. 
  • Place it back in the oven for another 20 minutes and you are done!
If you like your salmon medium rare, leave the squash in for 30 minutes and with 10 minutes remaining follow the steps above and leave the spaghetti squash with your salmon in the oven for another 10 minutes.

Once the 40 minutes are up, take out your squash and let your salmon rest separately on the side.
  • So you don't burn your hands, let the squash rest for a few minutes before you start to separate the strands. 
  • If you still see squash/olive oil juice that hasn't been soaked up by the salmon, use a spoon and save it in a small container so that you can add it to the finished dish. 
  • Once the spaghetti squash has cooled enough, take a fork and start to separate the strands of the squash.

Now you understand why they call it spaghetti squash!
  • When you separate the strands try not to puncture the skin of the squash. As you can see from the pictures you can use the skin as your plate and it holds up well to the task. 
  • Put all of the spaghetti squash strands in a separate container. You could add a pinch of salt and pepper to give the squash some flavor, BUT, I would actually recommend that you use grated parmesan cheese or feta cheese. The warmth of the squash will melt the cheese away and it will taste amazing! 
  • Whatever squash you have left over simply save in a container and leave in your refrigerator. You can use it for lunch, or if you happen to be making this dish for 4 people, then I would say that it will yield enough for everyone without any leftovers.

Tip 2 - If making Basmati rice try making it earlier in the day.  It will reduce the amount of time you spend around the oven.  Follow the instructions in the bag, but add a clove of garlic or the stem of one scallion for flavor (My mom and aunt do this to regular rice and it makes Basmati rice even more flavorful!). When you are ready to reheat, simply place your rice in a microwavable container, wet and strain a paper towel, just make sure the paper towel stays moist.  Use it to cover the rice and microwave for a minute.  The rice comes out as if you had just finished cooking it.

Now that your dish is ready to plate and serve I hope that you enjoy it with a beer growler of your choice (which I did) or maybe a nicely chilled glass of your favorite white wine.

Buen provecho! =)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Kale & Beet Leaf Chips

This past Tuesday I visited the local farmer's market by my job and as always I saw a lot of veggies I haven't dared to try.  One of the workers in the Migliorelli Farm stand recommended that I try their kale.  He boasted that it was the best kale you could find in NY.  So I had to give it a try.  (To find a farmer's market near you simply search online, or visit GrowNYC for a listing of NYC farmer's markets.)

I went ahead and bought a head of kale for $3.50 as well as one bunch of beets with its leaves for $3. The farmer said that if I had never tried kale before, to try making kale chips.  He said buying them in a place like Whole Foods will cost you around $8 which is ridiculous expensive, plus they are easy enough to do on your own.  Though you definitely get a lot of kale for the price you definitely may want to save your kale to make something other than chips.  Saute the kale with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper, or a dash of low sodium soy sauce, and you can use them as a side dish to any meal.  

Even though this is my first time trying kale, I had heard the rumors that it was supposed to be amazing for you.  I think I need to personally introduce my aunt and mom to this.  Check out's article on the 7 Reasons Kale is the New Beef for more information about this amazing leafy green.  You will  definitely see this ingredient popping up around this blog more often.  It's anti-inflammatory and claims to have more iron and calcium per calorie than your favorite choice of beef or milk.

Beet leaves may not be quite the superstars like kale, but they are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals that beat most of the other junk food we eat.  Check out for more information on the Nutritional Content of Beet Leaves.  The reason I picked beet leaves for this recipe was one because they looked so pretty, and two because it would have been a crime to toss them out and only use the beets.  Plus, I remember my mom telling me that whenever she bought beets with the leaves she would use the leaves to make vegetable soup.  I was taught not to throw away food, and if it's edible, then why not make something with it.  So this is me making good use of them but instead of soup I'm making chips.

I really hope you enjoy making them as much as I know you will enjoy eating them.  Make them as snacks or as appetizers, either way they will be one of the healthiest snacks you will ever enjoy.

TIP 1 - Preparation for making these chips is fairly simple, just use your imagination on the seasonings and go for it!  I made one batch with parmesan cheese and another with Cajun seasoning and they were to die for!!

Kale & Beet Leaf Chips
1 head of Kale
Leaves of one bunch of beets
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Sea salt and Pepper to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons of seasoning, depends on the seasoning used.

  • Parmesan Cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano di Parma is the best!!)
  • Cajun Seasoning
  • Adobo Seasoning
  • Minced Garlic and/or Ginger with a few drops of Soy Sauce
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Wash and dry the kale leaves.  You can cut out the ribs of the kale.  I happen to like the ribs so I kept them on.  Remove, wash and dry the leaves from the beets.  Mix ingredients in a bowl and make sure everything is well coated.  
  • Place leaves on top of an aluminum sheet pan. Try to give each leaf its own space on the pan so that they dry quicker.  Placing them on top of one another delays the process and only cooks the leaves instead of making them crispy.
  • Check back after 5 minutes then turn them.  Wait 5 more minutes and remove them from the oven.  If you think they are still not crispy enough, leave them in for a couple of more minutes and then remove.
  • Try to use all of the racks in the oven so that you can make as many as you can in one batch.

TIP 2 - I like to use any type of vinegar, could be apple cider vinegar if that is all you have, to wash vegetables and leaves.  I add a tablespoon of vinegar to a large glass of water and then use the water to wash the leaves making sure they all get a good coating.  Then I let them marinate with the vinegar water for two to three minutes before washing off the vinegar and patting them dry.  You can also use baking soda if you don't have any vinegar. 

TIP 3 - Don't leave them in the oven for too long, otherwise you'll get chips that look brown (see image below).  You want them to still look green when you take them out of the oven.  I found that the batch below turned out dryer and they didn't preserve the taste of the parmesan cheese which I used as my seasoning ingredient.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Tofu Perico

Breakfast with the entire family on the weekends has to be one of my favorite meals of the week. I get to wake up late and make whatever type of breakfast I want.  It often turns into brunch because by the time I'm done cooking it's always past 12pm.  During the week though, breakfast becomes the most neglected meal of the day.  We always find ourselves in a rush to get to work.  We forget our keys, our cell phone, or sometimes the very important umbrella on a rainy day.  The worst offense though has to be that we forget to set time aside to eat a decent breakfast, and note that I don't say "a proper breakfast".  If I had what  Colombians consider a proper breakfast in the morning, then I would never make it to work on time.  

That's why in the morning I always try to set aside enough time to make myself "a decent breakfast".  I am not a morning person and my commute to work tends to run an hour and a half, but if I don't eat before I leave I'll be starving by the time I get to work. I will most likely get cranky and will require an everything bagel with cream cheese from the corner deli.  To avoid this scenario, I usually like to make myself a morning scrambled egg with a toasted loaf of whole wheat or whole grain bread spread with half a wedge of the Laughing Cow Light Creamy Swiss cheese.  That paired with a freshly ground cup of coffee will get me through my morning commute.  

Unfortunately, I have recently encountered that I can't always eat eggs in the morning.  Most of the time my stomach can handle the eggs but there are some days when I have an adverse reaction.  Am I allergic?  Not sure, but it doesn't happen all of the time.  That's why I  decided that I should try to substitute eggs with something else, and well, Tofu came to mind.  It's low in fat and sodium and it's got a ton of protein, iron, and vitamins.

Though you can never truly substitute the taste of an egg, I needed to come up with something that would give my block of tofu a flavor that my taste buds were familiar with.  Most of the recipes I found online paired tofu with Asian ingredients, and even though I love the way it's prepared with those ingredients, I wanted to give the tofu a Latin twist.  That's when I remembered that Colombians love to eat
huevos pericos for breakfast.  That's what we call scrambled eggs mixed with diced scallions and tomatoes. I could use the scallion and tomato sauce or guiso as a base for the tofu giving it that Latin Sazón.  

Making the sauce ahead of time could save you time in the morning.  It could be as easy as heating up a tablespoon or two of the sauce and mixing the crumbled tofu.  Just like my morning scrambled egg routine, you could try pairing your tofu with toast in the morning.

Because I prepared this dish during the weekend, I took the recipe a little bit further and paired my
Tofu Perico with some tostadas de platano maduro or fried yellow flattened plantains.  You also find the word tostones and patacones used to described them.  They are usually made with green plantains, which would also be delicious with this dish, but I like my plantains on the sweet side.

Now let's get started!

Tofu Perico
serves 2
1/2 a block of extra-firm tofu (14-ounce packet), drained
3 to 4 scallions diced
1 medium tomato diced
1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 clove roasted garlic or 1 minced clove of garlic
1 packet of culantro with achiote food coloring (depending on the flavor you want this can change)
Add salt and pepper to taste

Sweet Yellow 
Flattened Plantains 
Use the same recipe to make green flattened plantains.
serves 2
1 sweet plantain (makes 5 to 6 tostadas)
1 cups of canola oil (amount varies by pot used)

Tip 1 - Don't buy a yellow plantain from the store, get a green one and let it mature on its own. You want the plantain to turn yellow, but you want it to maintain a bit of the firmness of the green plantain. That makes the sweet plantain easier to mold when you flatten it. It's a trick my mom and aunt both taught me. It's also cheaper to buy green plantains.

Dice tomato and scallions but don't combine.  Break apart half a block of extra firm tofu with a fork until you get the consistency of ground beef.  Remove the skin of the sweet plantain and cut into 1.5 inch slices. That should yield about 5 to 6 tostadas depending on the size of the plantain.  Set ingredients aside.

Sweet Yellow 
Flattened Plantains 
  • In a frying pan, add a cup of canola oil, or enough oil to coat half the plantain. Set the oil to medium heat. Don't use the highest setting, you don't want the plantains to burn.
  • Pinch a piece out of one of the plantains and use it to test the oil.  You want to make sure it bubbles to the touch.  Add the diced sweet plantains. Fry the plantains and wait until they are a light golden color, then turn.  If you are using enough oil to coat the plantain wait until they are a light golden color then remove and drain on top of paper towels.  Don't turn off the heat of the oil (see Tip 2 below).
  • Take the diced plantains that have been drying on a paper towel and flatten between two smooth surfaces.  I use a wooden plantain smasher but even two plates will do.  I recommend lightly oiling the surface you are using to flatten the plantain so it doesn't stick.
  • Place the flattened plantains back in the oil and fry until golden brown.  Remove and drain on top of paper towels.
  • Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper on top of the finished sweet flattened plantains.  Try to remove as much of the oil that you can.

Tip 2 - Don't turn off the heat of the oil if you are going to cook everything right away. If you are preparing the plantains earlier in the day, follow the recipe until the step where you flatten the plantains. After you flatten the plantains, place them in salted water until you are ready to fry. Because we are using yellow plantains, I don't believe they will oxidize, but I've never tried this tip with yellow plantains. It will definitely work on green plantains though. Dry plantains thoroughly before placing back in the heated oil.

Tofu Perico
  • In a skillet, heat one tablespoon of olive oil them add the roasted clove of garlic along with the diced scallions.  Use a spoon or a fork to break apart the soft roasted garlic and mix with the scallions.  If you are using minced garlic, saute the garlic first, then add the scallions.  Visit the Don't Burn the Garlic! blog for a great recipe on how to create the perfect roasted garlic.
  • After about 3 minutes of sauteing add the additional tablespoon of olive oil along with the diced tomatoes and a half packet of food coloring.  Add the rest of the packet if you want your tofu to have more coloring.
  • Saute the tomatoes, but don't let the mixture dry out, you want the tomatoes and the scallions to form a light sauce, then add the tofu and mix all of the ingredients together.
  • Let everything cook together for another 5 minutes and set aside.

It's now ready to serve and enjoy.

Tip 3 - You can use the Tofu Perico to serve as an appetizer by buying a plantain smasher for stuffed tostones. You can also supplement the Tofu with any type of meat, the key here is the tomato and scallion sauce to give your dish that Latin Sazón.

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About This Blog

I started this blog because I want to introduce new and healthy ingredients into my everyday meals. Living in the NY, NJ, CT tri-state area you find a plethora of local grocery stores that service a number of diverse neighborhoods. Every time I visit one of these stores I find fruits, vegetables, and ingredients that I have never used, or that I am afraid to use. I want to incorporate these ingredients to create new and healthier ways to experience Latin food, as well as other types of cuisines. I think it's important to love and continue our cooking traditions while also testing and incorporating new and healthier ingredients and techniques.

One of the most distinct ingredients that I know is not widely used in Latin cuisine is tofu, and it’s a shame. I have had tofu at Chinese and Thai restaurants before, but I never gave the ingredient a second thought. Tofu is such an amazing alternative to meats and it’s super healthy and cheap! This one ingredient got me thinking about all of the other healthy and fresh ingredients I could be using to develop Latin infused dishes that everyone in my family will love. That’s why I decided to name this blog Tofu con Sazón!