Unless you’re deeply committed to a life of vegetables, words like plant-based can be a turnoff when it comes to menus and cookbooks. Sure, many of us, myself included, want to expand our vegetable repertoire but still need to indulge their inner carnivore—particularly when we think of a bleak future with nothing but quinoa and steamed broccoli. But Kate Ramos, who created the blog ¡Hola! Jalapeño! with the goal of merging authentic ingredients and flavors with modern preparations, has our back. Taking that philosophy, Ramos has written her Plant Powered Mexican: Fast, Fresh Recipes from a Mexican-American Kitchen , published by Harvard Common Press, it’s a lushly photographer book with recipes that are so wonderful it’s easy to forget there’s nary an animal protein anywhere in her book.
Instead, Ramos offers us such dishes as Chileatole (a thick soup) with Masa Dumplings and Lime Crema, Potato and Collard Greens, Crispy Tacos with Ancho Chile Crema, and my personal favorite–One-Pan Cheesy Rice Chile Relleno Casserole.
In her first chapter, Ramos tells us what’s in her pantry, providing us with an entrée into the world of chiles, peppers, oils, spices, herbs, and Mexican cheeses as well as the equipment she relies upon. The latter are simple enough. Just a comal (but she notes you can use a cast iron skillet instead) and a molcajete and tejolote, a volcanic stone mortar and pestle for grinding spices and making chunky salsas. As for the ingredients she commonly uses, I’d be willing to bet that many of us have such items as black pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder, kosher salt, and coriander in our spice drawer already. That just leaves a variety of dried chile powders—ancho, guajillo, arbol, and habanero as well as a few other ingredients that can be bought as needed. Unlike many entrees into a new cuisine, Ramos keeps it simple and inexpensive.
Six of the remaining chapters are divided into cooking methods—slow cookers, stovetop, grills, and oven. Instant Pot aficionados will be very happy to hear that there’s an entire chapter devoted to recipes using the beyond popular small kitchen appliance. Ramos cooks out of a small kitchen and says she’s never been enamored of kitchen equipment until, that is, she fell in love with her Instant Pot. Besides, its ability to cook beans—a common ingredient in Mexican cookery–quickly, Ramos offers a selection of recipes she’s developed for quick dinners for busy home cooks like Black Bean Enchilada Casserole, Smoky Tomato Tortilla Soup, and her Loaded Sweet Potatoes with Lime Crema, Sofrito Beans, Roasted Kale, and Chives.
The recipes I made all worked without me having to make tweaks to salvage them. That’s a plus because I have encountered recipes that haven’t been tested or at least not well evaluated before being included in a cookbook. If I have one complaint about Plant Powered Mexican it’s that the font is small so instead of just glancing at the recipe while cooking, I often had to pick up the book to be able to read the directions. It’s a small complaint and shouldn’t stop anyone who is interested in plant-based cooking from purchasing this well-written cookbook.
Vegan Picadillo Tostadas with Rice and Peas
For the tostadas
12 6-inch corn tortillas
For the picadillo
- 2 tablespoons avocado or sunflower oil
- 1 medium white onion chopped
- 2 medium carrots chopped
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- 3 small Yukon gold potatoes peeled and diced
- 1 pound plant-based beef
- 1 recipe Magic Spice Mix see below
- 1 ¼ cups Gluten-free beer or vegetable broth
- ½ cup frozen peas no need to thaw
- ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 3 cups steamed rice
- Lime wedges
- 1 large avocado diced
- 1-2 medium jalapeños thinly sliced
- Green salsa
To make the tostadas: Heat the oven to 350°F. Once the oven is ready, lay the tortillas directly on the oven racks with plenty of room around them for air to circulate. (I put six on the top rack and six on the bottom in my oven.)
Bake for about 15 minutes, turning the tortillas halfway through, until they are very crisp and crack if you break them. Look for a light brown color, no darker than the shade of a roasted peanut. Remove the tortillas to a serving platter.
To make the picadillo: Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, garlic, and potatoes. Cook until the garlic and onions start to brown, about 5 minutes.
Add the plant-based beef and spice mix, breaking up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon. Continue cooking until the beef is browned, about 3 minutes. Add the beer or broth, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover. Simmer the picadillo for about 10 minutes or until the veggies are tender. Stir in the peas and parsley, and cook for about 1 minute.
To Serve: Spread ¼ cup of rice on a tostada, and top with ¼ cup picadillo. Pass the garnishes at the table.
Magic Spice Mix:
Mix 1 tablespoon guajillo chile powder, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, ½ teaspoon smoked paprika, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ½ teaspoon ground coriander, ½ teaspoon dried epazote or oregano (preferably Mexican) together in a small bowl until evenly combined. Use immediately or keep in a container for up to 1 month.
Chilled Avocado Soup
FOR THE SOUP:
- 1 large ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
- 2 cups cold water
- 2 small Persian cucumbers
- 2 scallions, trimmed and chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 2 limes)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
FOR THE FAIRY DUST
- 1/4 cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds
- 1/4 cup white sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup popped amaranth
- 1/4 cup edible flower petals, such as nasturtium, pansies, marigolds, or cornflowers
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
To make the soup:
Blend soup ingredients. Add avocado, water, cucumbers, scallions, chile, lime juice, cilantro, oil, and salt to a blender. Blend until smooth.
Chill. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until completely cold, at least 2 hours.
To make the fairy dust:
Combine. Add the sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, amaranth, flowers, and cumin seeds to a small bowl. Mix gently.
Serve. Ladle the cold soup into bowls and sprinkle fairy dust over the top.
This review originally appeared in The New York Journal of Books.