“Chipotle” Sofritas Salad Bowl

In a world without many Chick-fil-A restaurants, Chipotle is my go-to fast-food of choice. Besides the fact that you can almost achieve a “healthy” order if selective at the toppings bar, you can get your food topped with a mountain of guacamole. I nearly always order the vegetarian salad bowl, simply because it comes standard with a mountain of guacamole instead of requiring a surcharge. I appreciate that Chipotle does seem to research the sources of their meat and dairy, but I tend to order vegetarian at restaurants unless I know it’s from a good source. Recently, however, I noticed Chipotle had upped their vegetarian offerings: sofritas tofu as a flavorful “meat” option. I never had heard of sofritas previously, but I love tofu, and it looked enticingly spicy and delicious. The downside: guacamole was now an extra again. But no matter: I’m a gainfully employed member of society; I can spring for the extra topping. I ordered my usual bowl- lettuce, black beans, fajita vegetables, medium salsa, pico de gallo, little bit of cheese, huge glob of guacamole- but added the sofritas as well. The verdict was: delicious! The sofritas really imitates classic taco meat in texture and flavor, with just a hint of extra spice. I knew within a few bites I’d be recreating it at home.

The first time I made sofritas from a block of tofu, I topped it on a salad with a few toppings and called it a day. It was delicious, but I wanted to really imitate the Chipotle bowl, just to compare. So I set off to make it again… and it only took 3 months! But really, there are a lot of components to a Chipotle bowl, and to the point of not spending tons on groceries, I’ll admit I skipped over a few of my standard bowl toppings, knowing I wouldn’t miss it much. And, at the end of it all, I think the sofritas tofu is really spot on, the toppings a perfect combination, and… this is the kicker… no guacamole required. This was a definite mistake, as I for some reason didn’t buy enough limes, or have cilantro, or have enough garlic, to make my favorite guacamole. After pondering lame versions, I decided sliced avocado would have to do. Not the same, but certainly nothing to be mad about. Avocado in its truest form is pretty darn delicious as well. In total, this is totally something to check out, either at home or at your neighborhood speedy Mexican joint; it really would please vegetarians and meat-lovers alike.

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“Chipotle” Sofritas Salad Bowl

Serves 2-3

Sofritas

  • 1 block extra firm tofu, pressed for 30 minutes
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tbsp. grapeseed (or other neutral) oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 3/4 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
  • pinch of dried red chili flake

1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly

1/2 yellow onion, sliced thinly into half-moons

1 tbsp. grapeseed oil, divided

1 cup black beans, tossed with 1/4 tsp. cumin and salt and pepper

1 avocado, sliced

1/2 cup shredded cheddar and/or monterey jack cheese

4 cups shredded romaine lettuce (about 1 1/2-2 romaine hearts)

Dressing of choice, if desired (I went without; strong considerations- chipotle ranch or spicy lime vinaigrette)

To prepare the sofritas, first press your block of tofu for at least 20-30 minutes. Once pressed, whisk together the juice, oil, garlic, and spices to create a marinade. Break up and crumble the tofu with your fingers into a small mixing bowl. Pour the marinade over the top and toss the tofu until evenly covered. Allow to marinade for 30 minutes to an hour (or until you want to make dinner). When ready to cook, heat a sauté pan over medium high heat and add 1/2 tbsp. grapeseed oil. Add the sofritas to the sauté pan and distribute evenly, allowing to cook without stirring for at least 5 minutes or so; this is to facilitate browning the tofu. Once beginning to brown, stir the sofritas and continue to cook until browned to your liking, about another 5-10 minutes. Taste and season as desired, and set aside to cool slightly.

In another sauté pan, heat 1/2 tbsp. grapeseed oil over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

In the same sauté pan, heat the black beans until warm. Remove from heat and set aside.

To prepare the salad, plate the romaine. If using dressing, toss the romaine lightly with dressing before plating. Next, add the peppers and onions, then a pile of sofritas, then the black beans. Sprinkle 2 tbsp. – 1/4 cup of shredded cheese over the salad, then add the sliced avocado on top. Then take a fork to it and mess it all up so everything is evenly distributed. Dig in and enjoy!

This makes a pretty big salad- definitely a dinner salad. But it’s intention is to compete heartily with the Chipotle burrito, quesadillas, and tacos! It’s very satisfying, and you won’t miss out on the extra cheese, meat, and tortillas at all. (Of course, if you wanted to be really indulgent, you could add some tortilla crisps to the salad and just go all out).

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How people actually eat salads… a mess of delicious ingredients, available at every bite.

 

 

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An Enchilada Dinner Party, Part 2: Roasted Tomato and Chile Vegetable Enchiladas

So you’re off to a great start for dinner: you’ve eaten a massive amount of guacamole, and you’ve sipped greedily on delicious sangria. But now it’s time to feast! I decided to make two types of enchiladas, primarily because I wanted to try out two different recipes. The vegetable enchiladas were significantly more labor intensive; however, they have the benefit of being vegetarian, (possibly) gluten-free, and (almost) every-other-dietary-restriction acceptable (vegan if you skip the cheese, which I’ve done previously. You don’t miss it if you pile on the guac to serve!). I’m not any of these things, but I do appreciate vegetables (massively so), and I like the idea behind making something a bit more non-traditional. To appease classic tastes, I also prepared (incredibly tasty) chicken enchiladas, which were simpler, more quickly prepared, and an all-around hit, so I’ll share those tomorrow. The vegetables in these enchiladas are pretty acceptable year-round, although I suppose fresh summer squash and corn could amp up the flavor a bit. Roasting and sautéing the vegetables imparts a more dramatic flavor, which sufficiently minimizes any “blandness” due to out-of-season ingredients. And, finally, we’re wrapping up all these veggies in a corn tortilla, smothering them in salsa, and baking them with cheese. Should we really be worried about anything?

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Roasted Tomato and Chile Vegetable Enchiladas

Makes about 24 enchiladas; Serves 12

24 corn tortillas

12 oz. manchego cheese, freshly shredded

Roasted Tomato and Chile Salsa

  • 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil
  • 6 roma tomatoes
  • 2 packages/cartons grape tomatoes
  • 1 large sweet onion, quartered
  • 3 jalapeno peppers, stems and seeds removed
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 large lime, juiced
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

2 bell peppers, diced (any color)

1 jalapeno, diced

3 zucchini, diced

5 oz. shitaki mushrooms, diced

5 oz. cremini mushrooms, diced

2 cups frozen corn

3 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tbsp. chile sauce

6 tbsp. all-purpose flour or cornstarch

4 cups vegetable stock

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Salt & pepper, to taste

To prepare the salsa, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, toss vegetables with grapeseed oil and spices (leave out lime juice and cilantro). Pour the bowl’s contents onto the baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are browned around the edges. Once roasted, add the roasted vegetables to a food processor with lime and cilantro and blend until smooth. If your food processor is too small, blend in batches. Alternatively, you could use a blender or immersion blender. This salsa can be made days in advance and should be kept in the refrigerator.

If you’d rather save some time the night of cooking, dice/chop/prepare all the vegetables used for enchiladas the day before. They will keep well stored in individual containers in the refrigerator. This prep time is not to be dismissed; I believe I was chopping for well over 30 minutes. I’d highly recommend having everything prepared beforehand!

The day of cooking, heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or VERY large pot over medium heat. Sauté garlic for about 20 seconds, until just fragrant. Add onions, peppers, jalapeno, and zucchini to the pot and sauté until softened (time will depend on cooking vessel; I’d estimate about 10 minutes). Add mushrooms and sauté until softened and just releasing their juices, about 10 minutes longer. Pour in spices and chile sauce and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle flour over the vegetable mixture, and stir until flour has combined and cooked, about 3 minutes.  Add vegetable stock to the vegetables and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Or, if using cornstarch, mix cornstarch in about 1 cup of stock, whisking to combine. Add vegetable stock to the vegetables and, while stirring, add cornstarch-stock slurry and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the temperature and simmer until the sauce has thickened. Add frozen corn, stir, and heat for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, add chopped cilantro, and stir. Set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour an even layer of about 1/2 cup of salsa into the bottom of two 13×9 baking pans (I used glass pyrex). Now, set up your work station. The corn tortillas require heating on a skillet for about 20 seconds per side before use. I used a large griddle to heat multiple tortillas at once (with the help of my roommate preparing the chicken enchiladas simultaneously). I found working with about 2 heating tortillas was most efficient without burning or waiting. Next to the griddle or skillet, keep a large bowl filled with the salsa nearby. Have a large spoon ready in the vegetable mixture, and keep the shredded manchego cheese a quick reach away. To prepare each enchilada, heat a tortilla until softened. Dip in salsa on both sides, then let rest in the enchilada pan. Fill with about 1/4 cup of the vegetable mixture, then top with about 1 tbsp. of manchego cheese. Roll the tortilla tightly and move to the furthest corner of the pan. Repeat this process 23 times. I found about 12 tortillas fit in a 13×9, with a row of 10 running longitudinally, and 2 fitting transverse across the bottom of the pan. Once the enchiladas are all rolled and squished together, top with another 1/2 cup of salsa per pan and a thorough sprinkle of manchego cheese (may as well use it all!). I had some leftover vegetable mixture (as I only made 18 enchiladas), so I added some of that to the top as well.After this, your hands will be a sticky mess of sauce, salsa, and cheese, but nothing a quick hand wash can’t handle.

Place the pans side-by-side in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. I made these at the same time as two equally-sized pans of chicken enchiladas, so I rotated all 4 pans twice during cooking. Once the cheese has melted, the sauce is bubbly, and the entire floor of your condo building smells like mexican food, the enchiladas are done.

I don’t have a photograph of the finished product, because I slipped these into the oven after guests had arrived, and within minutes of being done they were somehow gone entirely. These can be eaten as is, unadorned, or topped with anything from a fresh squeeze of lime, chopped cilantro, guacamole, or sour cream. I’ve said these are labor intensive, but they are so delicious, so flavorful, and so worth it. They absolutely should be dinner for Brian.

An Enchilada Dinner Party, Part 1: The Sides

In theory, it’s healthier and more satisfying to eat with people. You slow down, socialize, and relax; it becomes an experience rather than a quick means of quieting an empty stomach. But in actuality you’re often alone, or at least eating your own meal, and there’s not much more to it than spoon-mouth-swallow-repeat. And that’s fine (I hope), but in order to alleviate the redundancy of lonely eating, sometimes a dinner party is in order. Living in Chicago, it seems like it would be easy to get a group of friends together several nights a week. In every TV show I know featuring a group of friends in a big city (which is pretty much every TV show), group gatherings are a nightly occurrence. It’s almost as if these TV shows don’t accurately portray the busy schedules inherent in our actual reality (gasp!). But in real life, it’s hard to find time. Everyone works different jobs, everyone is an obnoxious amount of public transit away, and everyone has his/her own life to uphold. So the dinner party is thought of, pondered about, mentioned in passing, and usually forgotten. But with a little bit of effort, and a lot of in-advance planning, it comes to fruition: a fantastic weeknight in with friends, food, and awkwardly invasive dogs. It is so worth the preparation, the extra time, the poor sleep that night, and the slightly-more-rough-than-average day at work.

I’d highly recommend, if I can, an enchilada dinner party. Not only were several trays of these enchiladas downed by a moderate group of people in barely enough time for the dogs to lunge at the plates, but they were very conducive to prepping in advance and, consequently, quick to pull together the day of. But enough about enchiladas; we’ll get to those later. What about their classic additions, the staples of Spanish and Mexican-inspired cuisine? Every party needs its drinks and appetizers.  I’m of course talking about guacamole, the most delicious of dips, as well as sangria, the fruity-yet-classy drink of the Spanish gods. The recipes for these sides are barely recipes, more like a list of components, but they certainly become greater than the sum of their parts. With recipes this delicious, easy to prepare, and relatively hands-off when the guests arrive, we’ll certainly be doing this again.

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Red Wine and Clementine Tempranillo Sangria

1 pitcher, serves 10-12

2 bottles of Tempranillo wine

1/2 bottles sparkling clementine juice (available at Trader Joe’s)

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 lemon, diced

1 orange, diced

1 apple, diced

In a large pitcher, mix wine, sparkling clementine juice, and lemon juice. Dice the fruit and add to the pitcher. Chill to serve.

That’s it. Easiest recipe ever. But this sangria earned compliments ALL around. It’s slightly sweet, just barely effervescent, and full-bodied without the burdensome dryness red wine can at times impart. And then obviously, the fruit is the best part.

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Classic Guacamole

Makes ~ 3 cups

6 ripe avocados, pitted

3 limes, juiced

1/3 white onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeno, minced

1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

1/2 – 3/4 tsp. salt, to taste

1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

In a large bowl, mash avocados. Add the juice of 3 limes and minced accompaniments and stir. Add chopped cilantro, salt, and pepper and mix until thoroughly combined. Serve with a ton of your favorite tortilla chips.

This is another easy recipe, but, again, oh so good.  The beauty of an enchilada night is that the snacking and drinks are nearly as good as the dinner, leading to an evening that is indulgent, spicy, fresh, flavorful, and an all-around good time.

But don’t serve your guac yet; it really goes best before enchiladas, and those recipes are coming soon.