Monday, July 20, 2015



A Five-Minute Appetizer and A Tale of Two Restaurants Part II
by Victoria Challancin

When I am thinking superficially, I suspect that I secretly live for cheese.  I just love the stuff.  Strong, mild, soft, hard, sharp, pungent, nutty, acidic, floral, earthy, complex, mottled, peppery, fermented, herbaceous, intense, or tart...yep, I love them all.  Each and every one.  So when looking for a quick, stand-in appetizer, I naturally look for cheese.  When there is no time for a proper cheese tasting plate, I often opt for something as simple as this dish:  Goat Cheese Slathered with Fig Jam and Topped with Toasted Salted Pumpkin Seeds.  Dead easy.  Dead delicious.  Tangy, sweet, salty...all these flavors blend perfectly with the accompanying textures:  crunchy, soft, and gooey.  A winner in every way.  And did I mention that you can usually pull it together in about five minutes with ingredients you probably have on hand?

 
Cook's Notes:  San Miguel's largest supermarket usually carries a nice variety of English jams, of which fig is normally one.  Not so on the day when I made this.  So...I opted for pear, which made a nice substitute.  Because I also failed to find pre-toasted and salted pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, I heated a bit of olive oil in a skillet and toasted raw ones for a few minutes until they popped, then ground coarse sea salt over them.  Nice.  Of, and of course, I probably tripled the amount of jam and pepitas, called for in the recipe just because I just don't seem to be a moderate person in general and because more just seemed better.

Recipe:  Fig and Pepita Goat Cheese Log
(Recipe adapted slightly from Food Network)

One 15.5 oz log goat cheese (I chose plain, but herbed with garlic would have been nice as well)
1/4 cup fig jam, or to taste
1/2 cup toasted, salted shelled pumpkin seeds  (see Cook's Notes)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the goat cheese log on a cheese board, plate, or platter.  Spoon the fig jam over the goat cheese, gently spreading it with the back of the spoon. Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds over the jam to coat.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with crostini or crackers.

Made a bit prettier by being served on a Moroccan fossil plate from a 600-million-year-old slab with a thoroughly modern Moroccan cheese knife


A Tale of Two Restaurants, Part II
Although I rarely write a restaurant "review", I did choose to do so last week as I had eaten two fabulous lunches two days in a row in two very different types of eating establishments.  Two meals, completely different from each other, each lovely in its own way.

As you probably know, the first restaurant was Las Cazuelas Mexican buffet in nearby Comonfort--terrific, reasonably priced Mexican fare with the best chiles rellenos capeados ever!

What will be the second restaurant, friends have written to ask?  Knowing me, I think they suspected Don Taco Tequila for my favorite addictive ancho chile taco stuffed with goat cheese (yes, cheese again), almonds and a touch of honey--and of course with tortilla chips served with their salsas, which I think are the BEST five table salsas in San Miguel.  Is it DTT?  No.  Could it be Delica Mitsu, the Japanese deli/cafe where I go frequently for my bento box fix (always with their hijiki salad)?  Not this time.  Firenze or The Restaurant for their special offerings, the former always perfectly executed if small in number, the latter always innovative?  No, indeed not this time.  Mi Vida for their duck ragu?  Although I would almost crawl there to enjoy it...not for this review.  Hecho en Mexico for its reliable everything, from hamburgers on sour dough bread, to crispy fried chicken or squid, to that huge and yummy Thai-Mex salad?  Nah.  Buen Dia Cafe, my favorite breakfast spot (though Cafe Monet does a good eggs Benedict) for its unbelievably delicious cappuccino and green chilaquiles?  No, not breakfast on that day.  Media Naranja for the best tortilla soup in town?  Too hot still for hot soup.  Rosewood for its Sunday brunch at which I always overdo it...starting with a tamarind margarita, moving on to smoked salmon and cheese, then to the grilled food a la parilla, and still on to the beautiful dessert spread?  Nope, it wasn't Sunday.  Pizza Pig for great thin-crust pizza (I am NOT from Chicago--none of that thick stuff for me, please) and delicious salad?  No, we met in the historic centro.  Or speaking of out of town, perhaps Los Senderos with its house organic garden of vegetables and beautiful vistas--and great food as well.  No, we weren't out of town, as I said.  Fenicia for my regular fix of properly prepared Lebanese-style hummus and a spot-on mezze plate of equally authentic Middle Eastern fare?  Not on that Thursday.  Perhaps a quiche and salad from Cumpunio or one of Robin's terrific desserts from across the street at El Pegaso?  No, and no again.  Vivoli for the unctuous olivado and homemade bread which arrives as soon as you are seated?  No.  So which restaurant did my old and very dear friend and EXCELLENT travel writer Donna Meyer (visit Donna's beautifully-executed blog Nomad Women here) and I choose for our long-overdue reunion?  Scroll down to see.

For Restaurant #2, Donna and I chose Néctar, the quiet and subtly elegant Casa de Té en Camino Silvestre on Correo.  

And now to continue with the "Why Do I Do What I Do" theme I began last week. Why, exactly, did I choose this particular restaurant?

Because I so love al fresco dining, could it be because of the visually stimulating courtyard of the restaurant itself and its charming manager Juan Carlos Cuevas Almazán?  Both nice, but no.

 Is it because the space is elegantly quirky and that appeals to me more than words can say?  No.

 Is it because the store which houses the restaurant in its courtyard always titillates me with its quiet elegance and tasteful handmade decorative items?  No, no, no.

 Is it because when my son worked with this beautiful company I inadvertently learned more than I would ever have guessed about all things hummingbird--and learned to appreciate the beauty of all of the handmade hummingbird feeders and the other tasteful objets d'art that Camino Silvestre sells?  Non.
 So, what led my dear friend and me to this peaceful spot?  Why, the food, of course.  The food and the fascinating offerings on the completely tea-inspired menu.  Something a little different, a characteristic which is always pulls at my heartstrings.

Etched pitchers hold the infused drinks, the salad dressing, and simple syrup.  And while the drinks alone here cost more than the entire last buffet with drink included that I wrote about last week, the prices are still very reasonable.


Sample Dishes from the Inspired Menu:
This vegetarian menu has it all...Gluten-free options, salmon and shrimp dishes for the flexitarians, a selection of vegetarian pâtés (my usual menu choice)  for the hedonists like me...nay, for the sensualists (I like that better), salads, sandwiches, veggie burgers, and more...and each dish is infused with tea.  Yes, "tea!"  What a delightful concept which yields delicious results!


From the menu: 

Appetizers:

  • Kernels of Sweet Corn with smoky Lapsang Souchong tea and condiments
  • Mediterranian Plate:  Turmeric cauliflower and white bean dip served with caramelized onions, chickpea fritters, and mixed olives  (Teas used?  Kerala Masala and El Andariego)
Dips and Pâtés:  (Truly this is my favorite)
  • A unique selection of vegetarian spreads with artisan crackers  (Cauliflower/White Bean Dip, Sun-Dried Tomatoes with Oranges and Basil with Tropical Herb Infusion, Lentil and Walnut Pâté with smoky Lapsang Souchong tea, or Artichoke Dip infused with Mint Tea)


 My dish:  Green Tea-Infused Couscous with Darjeeling Tea-Roasted Vegetables

Salads: 
  • Vegetables Roasted with Darjeeling Tea with Couscous infused with green tea, rose petals, and a touch of Artichoke/Mint Pâté  (yes, you guessed it, this was my choice...it was the rose petals that grabbed me, of course.  Delicious and subtle).
  • Quinoa Salad with Raw Vegetables and a light infusion of tropical fruits and herbs
  • Mixed Lettuces and Organic Arugula, Edamame, Pumpkin Seeds, Nuts, Amaranth, Potatoes roasted with Rosemary,  and Goat Cheese...all with a dressing made from an infusion of mixed berries
  • Niçoise--the classic Salade Niçoise served with a Bergamot-Orange Dressing

 Donna's dish:  Red Lentil and Sun-dried Tomato Vegan Meatball Sandwich in a Tomato-Orange Sauce infused with Rumba Tea

Other Sandwiches:
  • Darjeeling-Roasted Vegetable Sandwich with Goat Cheese and Arugula
  • Salmon with smoky Lapsang Souchong Tea, the house turmeric mayonnaise, arugula, and goat cheese
  • Breaded Eggplant with a Tomato Sauce with a touch of orange
Vegetarian Hamburgers:
  • Garbanzo Burgers with Tomato and Onion Chutney steeped in a Ginger Rooibos Infusion
  • Curried Black Bean Burgers with Corn and Caramelized Onions infused with Chai Tea
  • Quinoa and Lentil Burgers with Parsley, Onion and a touch of Rooibos Ginger Infusion
Shrimp:
  • Sautéed Shrimp with Lemongrass Dressing served over Green Tea-Infused Couscous with Rose Petals and Cherry Blossoms
Soups: (all vegetable-based)
  • Zucchini Soup with Fresh Lime and Lemongrass Tea
  • Carrot Soup with Vanilla Rooibos Tea and Slivered Almonds
  • Tomato Soup infused with a Smoky Black Tea, served with Yogurt
  • Puréed Green Pea Soup with a light infusion of Mint



While I haven't exhausted the menu offerings, this is a fair sample of the interesting, innovative and utterly delicious food served at Néctar.  Each of our main dishes cost 100 pesos, or about US$6.25 and the generous portions of the fruit tea infusion drinks were 70 pesos each, or about US$4.35.  I am never disappointed when I eat here--and I always leave feeling gently stimulated by the artistic surroundings and replete with the satisfaction of having eaten something delicious, interesting, different, and healthy!

Do I prefer one of these restaurants over the other--the fun and economical all-Mexican buffet from Las Cazuelas in Comonfort or the quietly elegant modern vegetarian fare from San Miguel's Néctar in the courtyard of Camino Silvestre?  Do I prefer one over the other?  No.  Not at all.  The are both wonderful choices, each special in its own way, each with delicious food.  Kudos to both restaurants for jobs well done.

Parting Shot:  Mexican Juxtapositions

In the Courtyard of Néctar, Casa de Té, San Miguel de Allende


©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School (and Trips!)
San Miguel de Allende, México








Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Two Fruit Pizzas with a Cookie Crust and a Tale of Two Restaurants


Two Fruit Pizzas with a Cookie Crust and a Tale of Two Restaurants
by Victoria Challancin

Most of my regular readers know that I teach almost on-going courses of international cuisine to Mexican cooks in San Miguel de Allende, where I live.  The cooks, who mainly work for foreigners, come to me to learn to prepare food other than their native cuisine, with which they are proficient.  It is about job security.  It is about life learning.  It is about increasing skills.  It is about love of cooking.  For the cooks, it is all those things and more.  For me, it is about love.  I can say from the depths of my heart that I love this part of my work and always learn far more from them than I teach in return.  Through this work I continue to grow in my appreciation of the sheer generosity of the Mexican people, about which I have written before.  I continue to be in awe of women struggling to make a better life for their families by capitalizing on what they do best. Yes, for me it is about love--and empowerment for these (mainly) women who have become so very dear to me.

One of the things that continues to fascinate me about these Mexican cooks is their love of decorating.  Sure, I can give them plating ideas, more modern presentation, suggestions for garnishing...but I can't teach them a thing about decoration--not of cakes, not of desserts in general, and certainly not about such dishes as these fruit pizzas or a basic fruit tart.  Once I have shown them a few images of similar decorations as these online, I put out the fruit and stand back--not offering a single word of advice, never interfering.  And without fail, I am dazzled by their efforts.  Far better than my own would be, I'm certain.  


Having seen a number of fruit pizzas on the internet lately, I decide to teach the cooks how to make one in class.  When I spotted this one on The Cooking Channel, I knew it would be perfect for my students.  And my mind continues to whirl with other possibilities:  Chocolate sugar cookie crust or a thin brownie?  Chocolate chip cookies?  Oatmeal cookies?  I would think any cookie dough would work fine for this without any real adjustments.

Cook's notes:  If you have never tried to cut strawberries with a slicer designed for hard cooked eggs, you should do so!  It works perfectly.  You know the kind--with wires and a plastic base?  Also, don't omit the herbes de Provence in the glaze--they give it a subtle taste and a feeling of je ne sais pas.  I


Recipe:  Fruit Pizza with a Cookie Crust
(Recipe by Kelsey Nixon from The Cooking Channel)
Serves 8

Crust:
Nonstick cooking spray
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (113g) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Spread:
One 8-oz/227g package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Pinch salt

Glaze:
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence

Fresh fruit:
(Suggested)
1 cup blueberries
1 cup sliced kiwi
1 cup sliced nectarines (I used mango)
1 cup raspberries (I used blackberries)
1 cup strawberries

For the crust:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a 10-inch tart pan or pizza pan with nonstick cooking spray (I used a baking sheet with parchment, upon which we traced a 10-inch circle).  

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until smooth using a handheld mixer. Add in the egg and vanilla and mix until incorporated.  Slowly incorporate the flour mixture into the creamed butter, and mix until blended.  Remove the dough from the bowl and press it into the prepared pan or onto the prepared cookie or pizza pan.  (You may need to dust your hands with some flour to prevent the dough from sticking to them; it is a wet dough when it comes together).  Bake until the edges just start to brown, 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool. 

For the spread:  In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and salt until smooth.  Spread evenly on the cooled crust.

For the glaze:  Add the marmalade, 2 tablespoons water and the herbs de Provence to a small pot and cook over medium heat until loosened and warm.

To assemble:  Arrange the fresh fruit in the desired pattern on top of the pizza.  Brush the fruit with the glaze.  Slice and serve.

A note from the author of the recipe:  An offset spatula is a great tool for spreading the cookie dough.  If dough is too soft to work with, chill it in the refrigerator before proceeding.


Part I:  A Tale of Two Restaurants
When it comes to restaurants, I am nondiscriminatory.  Well...let me clarify.  I do discriminate when it comes to the quality of the food.  Definitely, I do that.  I mean, who wants to waste time on culinary mediocrity, right?  But when it comes to my surroundings, be they humble, elegant, or somewhere in between, I absolutely do not care.  Let there be cleanliness and good food, and I am a happy camper.  And with this caveat, let me tell you a tale of two favorite restaurants in San Miguel de Allende and environs.

In no particular order let me begin with Las Cazuelas, a family-run restaurant in the nearby town of Comonfort, about 20 minutes outside of San Miguel.  This restaurant, which has indoor and outdoor seating is a gem--and this is from one who swore she wouldn't write restaurant reviews.  If you are looking for honest, authentic Mexican fare at a shockingly low price, you just can't do better than this.  Open 7 days a week, it is almost always packed both for breakfast and comida, with the dishes changing according to the time of day.

Why do I love Las Cazuelas, you ask?  Let me count the ways.

Is it because it costs only the equivalent of US$3.19 with a drink of fresh orange juice, (morning only), fruit water (agua fresca), soft drink or bottled water?  No.

No, it is not the cost.  And anyway, it went up 20% last week and now costs about $3.83.  A bargain, no doubt, for an all-you-can-eat buffet.  But that is not why I love it.

Is it because I and my family or friends are always the only non-Mexicans eating there?  No.  That has its charms, mind you.  But that isn't why either.
Is it the wide variety of dishes offered freshly prepared, piping hot, and ever-changing?  Nope.

Is it because they use Mexican clay cazuelas and frankly, almost everything tastes better when prepared in one?  Not that either.

Could it be the impossibly non-greasy and extra-crunchy taquitos or flautas?  Close, but not really.

Is it the live music?  Charming, but no (please excuse this dark photo).

Could it be the perfectly-executed red and green salsas?  No...but we are getting close.

Pickled chiles?  Necessary to a meal, yes.  Why I go there?  Certainly not.


 Is it because of the on-going process of making fresh corn tortillas made on a huge metal comal--and the mere whiff of the nixtamal dough makes me want to faint from delight?  No.
 Is it because you can get a basket of soft or crunchy tortillas on your table at no extra cost and because they taste sooooo much better than they look in this fuzzy photo???  No.
Is it because someone, probably a family member, sells special Mexican sweets on occasion:  fruit paste, fruit leather, coconut cake, and more?  Nah.  Not that either.

Is it the chiles rellenos capeados?  Could it possibly be just for the fire-roasted poblano chiles stuffed with panela cheese and gently coated in a fine egg batter, then fried, then topped with a tomato caldillo?  Could it be because I am half Southern and can't help but love something fried, even if I don't fry in my own kitchen?  Does it help that they aren't greasy at all?  Could it be that poblano chiles are probably my favorite vegetable in a wide world of vegetables that I love?  Is it because panela, a non-melting cheese squeaks when you eat it, is low-fat, and reminds me of halloumi cheese that I adore but can't find yet in Mexico?  Could it be one or all of these things?  Yes, you have your answer.  I have driven there four times in little over two weeks just for the these chiles.  And if there are none yet out on display andI ask the friendly staff when they will be ready, he or she always tells me they won't tardar mucho (i.e. they won't be late) and then a plate of them magically appears on my table because they know, they just know that I can eat several.  And do.  Yes, you have your answer.  Chles Rellenos Capeados.  Probably my favorite Mexican dish.  

So there you have it:  delicious authentic food, perfect chiles, charming people, and a nice setting.  A perfect formula for dining if I have ever seen one.  Stay tuned for Part II next week--we will take a peek at an altogether different dining experience, but equally good.

And here is a sample of what my plates have looked like of late:

Steamed veggies, ripe tomatoes, and the ubiquitous salsa pico de gallo wioth tomato, onion, chile, cilantro and lime juice
An unbelievably light home-made tater tot, a bit of macaroni salad, a half-eaten crisp chicken taquito, green salsa, Mexican red rice, and more
Two chiles rellenos with a glob of perfect guacamole
Chiles rellenos bathed in a tomato caldillo and topped with a güero chile and the most delicious garbanzo beans ever.  Ever!
The same as above but with some strips of cooked nopal cactus.

More rice, new-crop beans, chille relleno, two "tater tots," and nopales.  More.  More.  More.

And finally a glimpse inside one of those perfect rellenos where you can actually see the both the deep green chile and the cheese.  Oh my.  I am hungry just looking at them.  If I didn't have class tomorrow, I might just pop over and have one.  Well, two.

What else can be found inside those lovely clay cazuela dishes?  Scrambled eggs in red sauce, pork skins in green sauce.  a lovely mole poblano, chicken (plainly cooked to be eaten with the mole), cooked purslane, raw salads, slaw, quelites (greens--various types),  beans (necessary--charro style, refried, plain--pintos and/or garbanzos), Mexican rices of different colors, and more.  Much more.  Just writing this makes me realize how much I love this country, its culture, its food, and most of all, its people.

 Parting Shot:  (Ok.  Bad photo of the musicians because even though I had their permission to take a picture, I was embarrassed to jump out in front of them to do so)



©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School
San Miguel de Allende, México






Friday, July 3, 2015


Chilled  Marinated Peach Soup with Dried Apricots and Goat Cheese
by Victoria Challancin

I am a sucker for cold soups, drawn to them like bees to honey, especially in hot weather.  So how do I account for this recipe, which we prepared in a cooking class I taught to Mexican cooks on Wednesday, when we have experienced nothing but very unseasonable rain and dreariness for what seems like weeks?  How do I account for it?  Well, just read the title--marinated peaches and dried apricots with goat cheese?  Of course this appealed to me.  I'll call it DNA:  the peaches are a tribute to my mother who hailed from Georgia and the goat cheese is a nod to my Dad's (French-) Italian family.  Those apricots?  Did I ever tell you about the time I got caught in the apricot-drenched Swat Valley in northern Pakistan, where surely I left a piece of my heart, not to mention of my car.  Yes, this recipe grabbed me.

 I didn't have pretty basil on hand for garnish, so I used watercress instead.  Delicious.

Cook's Notes:  This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.  We didn't have time for the overnight marination and it was still terrific!  I can only imagine if the flavors were more intense!  I used watercress for garnish and purchased croutons.  I also used white wine balsamic vinegar as I haven't yet found white balsamic here in San Miguel.

Recipe:  Chilled Peach Soup with Fresh Goat Cheese
(Recipe by Chef Jason Franey from Seattle's Canlis Restaurant via The Seattle Times)
Serves 4

3 cups sliced peeled peaches
1/4 cup finely diced peeled seedless cucumber, plus thin slices for garnish
1/4 cup finely diced yellow bell pepper, plus thin slices or cubes for garnish
1/4 cup diced dried apricots
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons crumbled fresh goat cheese, plus more for garnish
1$ cup white balsamic vinegar, plus more for seasoning (or white wine vinegar)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Kosher salt
1 large garlic clove
2 cups diced baguette (1/2-inch cubes)
Basil leaves, for garnish (or watercress, as I used here--or mint)
Freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl, toss the peaches, diced cucumber, yellow pepper, and apricots.  Add the honey, 3 tablespoons goat cheese, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, and 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt.  Add the garlic.  Gently stir to coat the ingredients.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Discard the garlic.  Transfer the contents of the bowl to a blender and puree.  Add 1/4 cup of water and puree until very smooth and creamy; add more water if soup seems too thick.  Season with salt, honey, and vinegar to taste.  Refrigerate the soup until very cold, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, if making croutons, in a medium skillet heat the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil.  Add the diced bread and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes.   Using a slotted spoon, transfer the croutons to paper towels and season with salt.

Pour the peach soup into shallow bowls and garnish with the sliced cucumber, sliced bell pepper, goat cheese, croutons, and basil.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil, season with black pepper and serve.



 Oops!  Where are the croutons?
 Ah, the croutons, here they are.

Parting Shot:  

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.


Flavors of the Sun Cooking School and Travel
San Miguel de Allende, México




Friday, June 26, 2015

Quinoa--Three Ways!

 Chilled Curried Cucumber Soup with Lemon-Mint Quinoa

Quinoa--Three Ways!
by Victoria Challancin

Sometimes I think it a shame that I love quinoa so much, as the cost for it in Mexico, for inexplicable reasons, is astronomical.  In the US, while visiting my son in California, I bought organic quinoa for $8.50 for 4 pounds.  Here in Mexico, I pay about the equivalent of US$10 per 400g or about US$12 per pound.  Sometimes it costs about $16 a pound--especially if red or black.  $12 to $16 per pound vs $2.13 per pound??? I feel gouged.  But I love it...and I continue to cook with it.

Here are three ways I have used quinoa in recent cooking classes I taught to Mexican cooks:  As a sprightly garnish for a chilled cucumber soup, as a salad with an interesting vinaigrette, and as a healthy filler for a raw chard wrap.  Each interesting.  Each healthy.  Each delicious.

Chilled Curried Cumbered Soup with Lemon-Mint Quinoa
This refreshing soup recipe, which I found in the latest June edition of Vegetarian Times, starts by sautéing a bit of garlic and ginger in olive oil before adding a touch of curry powder (I used Frontier brand Muchi Curry Powder, which is fantastic for those times when you don't have either the time or perhaps the inclination to make your own!) and cooking it until fragrant, a matter of seconds.  Then, basically everything for the soup is dumped into a blender and puréed.  Easy.  The quinoa garnish, which is so brightly flavored, is simply cooked quinoa mixed with olive oil, mint, parsley, lemon juice and zest.  Lovely.  


Recipe:  Chilled Curried Cucumber Soup with Lemon-Mint Quinoa
(Recipe from the Vegetarian Times Magazine, June 2015)

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling (this last is optional)
2 cloves garlic (2 teaspoons), minced or pressed
2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sweet curry powder
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt or plain yogurt (I used plain yogurt)
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream or plain yogurt (again, I just used plain yogurt)
4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, divided
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided, plus leaves or sprigs for garnish (I used a few snipped chives instead)
2 teaspoons lemon juice, or more, if necessary, divided (I did use a bit more for each use)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, divided
1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat.  Add garlic and ginger; sauté 1 minute, or until slightly softened.  Add curry powder, and sauté 15 to 30 seconds, or until fragrant.  Remove from heat.

Blend cucumbers, yogurt, sour cream, 3 tablespoons mint, 3 tablespoons parsley, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest in a small bowl.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Ladle soup into shallow bowls.  Spoon 1/4 cup quinoa into middle of each bowl.  Garnish with parsley leaves, and drizzle lightly with oil.

Quinoa Salad with Dried Cranberries, Mint, and Feta with a Lemon-Sumac Vinaigrette

While the quinoa looks a bit weird in this photo, the salad was a delight.  Fresh herbs, salty feta, tart-sweet dried cranberries, and quinoa--that delightfully crunchy miracle of Mother Nature, this salad is a winner.  Topping it with a tangy Sumac-infused vinaigrette makes it just perfect.  Next time I might add some toasted pine nuts as well, but that could be gilding the lily as this recipe lacks nothing just as written.  The original recipe by Jennifer Olvera from Serious Eats, called for dried cherries, which I would have liked even more, and pomegranate seeds, which are out of season here in Mexico.  But even tweaking it a wee bit, as I was forced to do, this is a salad for any time of the year.

Make sure not to over cook the quinoa.  Remove it from the heat source as soon as it has lost its bite, and allow it to rest a few minutes covered before fluffing it with a fork.  Also, serve at room temperature before adding the feta and dress it immediately before serving so as not to overwhelm the delicate grains of the cooked quinoa.


Recipe:  Quinoa Salad with Dried Cranberries, Mint, and Feta with a Lemon-Sumac Vinaigrette
                  (Slightly adapted from a recipe by Jennifer Olvera of seriouseats.com)

For the vinaigrette:
1/4 cup fresh juice from 2 lemons
1 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sumac
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Salad:
2 cups cooked, cooled quinoa
1/3 cup chopped dried tart cherries or cranberries
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds from 1 pomegranate
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

For the vinaigrette:  Whisk vinaigrette ingredients together in a small bowl, seasoning generously with salt and pepper.  Reserve.

For the salad:  Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl.  Add vinaigrette a few tablespoons at a time and tossing between additions until salad is dressed.  Serve immediately at room temperature.



 Quinoa Salad with Dried Cranberries, Mint and Feta in a Lemon-Sumac Vinaigrette with a Damascene Hand of Fatima (see below for more details on this work)




Rainbow Chard Wraps with Quinoa and Hummus
To make these healthy, yet filling wraps, we shaved the thick stems of the chard leaves (these could be dunked into water just off the boil for 5 seconds if preferred), slathered on a chipotle-flavored hummus, added a layer of cooked quinoa (both for its texture and healthy properties), and topped it all with alfalfa sprouts, and julienned veggies such as jícama, carrots, cucumber, purple cabbage, and colored bell peppers.  Because we made a Parmesan-Basil Mayo to accompany another dish, we added that as well.  Easy, healthy, and versatile--you could make this with lettuce, collards, or other greens of choice, and fill it with whatever suits your mood!
Parting Shot:  Moroccan Damascene Work
This delicate Damascene work is based on a technique that is thousands of years old.  First, a pattern is etched into the piece (in this case a vessel, but above in a decorative Hand of Fatima), then metal wire is hammered into the etching by hand, creating an inlay.  I watched the artisan working on this in Fès in May when I lead my 11th small group there.

Interested in visiting Morocco (a cultural rather than culinary journey)?  Contact me for details of my October and April 2016 trips.

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School and Travel
San Miguel de Allende,
 México