Syrian falafel

Our PNW kitchen is maybe now broken in; last night we made falafel, a family favorite and a recipe we all work on together. It’s historically been hard for me to share the kitchen, but I’m learning. It helps that I have the best tiny sous chef ever.

Falafel resting

Falafel resting

I managed to use the wrong blade in the food processor at first, knock the lid onto my head as I was sweeping up some chickpea detritus and serve dinner a half an hour late. Still, it was delicious.

Falafel from the side, green with parsley

Falafel from the side, green with parsley

We pan fry them rather than deep fry, but the outsides are crisp and the peek of green from the sides never fails to delight me. This morning I watched the Ayoubis make falafel on The Big Family Cooking Showdown, and that also delighted me.

Granola

The absurd and terrifying Road to Wellville is one of my favorite movies; making granola is one of my favorite things.

Granola: oats, almonds, quinoa, puffed rice, dried cranberries and more

Granola: oats, almonds, quinoa, puffed rice, dried cranberries and more

This tester recipe for More Sweet Vegan has a sneaky secret ingredient! You’ll just have to wait to find out what it is.

Granola: in a jar

Granola: in a jar

Vegan Ethiopian test kitchen

Happy New Year, everyone! I know things have been quiet around here lately, but behind the scenes things have been busy-busy. For one thing, I've been recipe testing for the awesome and adorable Kittee Berns - if you remember the fearsome pirana dish I made during VeganMoFo2013, the chickpea fish are her very own invention! She's coming out with a vegan Ethiopian cookbook, and it is going to be amazing. Here's a little sneak preview of some of the delicious dishes I've tested so far.

This is a life-changing recipe. I can't tell you what it is yet but I promise you won't be disappointed.

I'm pretty sure there's nothing vegans love more than mac and cheese.

Look at these colors! Just as tasty as they are vibrant.

And who doesn't love a dumpling? Someone who isn't invited for dinner, that's who.

Old New World: tortillas, a love story

tortillas, folded in a clean kitchen towel to steam

I've made an awful lot of tortillas this month for Vegan MoFo, but when I was a novice tortilla maker a few years ago I had no idea what I was doing. I'd eaten my fair share, but that's a different matter.

Tortillas in the pre-contact Americas were always made of corn, so that's what I've been making as wheat did not make it's way to the New World until the early 16th century when the Spanish brought it over. The Maya sometimes added in pumpkin or squash seeds to the masa, but most common was a plain tortilla, called wah and its thicker relative, pim. Tortillas came in many forms for the Aztecs; there are passages in the Florentine Codex that refer to tortillas made of a "white flour" or "white and hot tortillas" but these were made of corn, not wheat. Finely ground corn is much paler than coarsely ground, and there were many colors of maize - including white. According to the Franciscan friar Bernardo de Sahagún: 

"The tortillas which the lords ate every day were called tononqui tlaxcali tlacuelpacholli, meaning white and hot tortillas...ueitlaxcalli, meaning large tortillas; these are very white and very thin, and wide, and very soft...other tortillas called quauhtlaqualli; they are very white, and thick, and large and rough. They also ate some buns that were not round, but long, which they called tlaxcalmimilli...Another kind of tortillas they ate were called tlacepoalli tlaxcalli, which were in layers, and they were dainty food...there were also many kinds of tortillas for the commoners."

I feel like it's a pretty huge omission to not detail the "tortillas for the commoners," but I'm glad that Sahagún was so enthusiastic and mostly encyclopedic. I haven't made most of the kinds he describes, but I get by. If you're nervous about making tortillas, there are a few things I've picked up along the way; to start, here's the basic recipe I use for reference - you've seen it a few times this month.

tortillas 

makes 12

  • 2 cup masa harina
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cup water plus more if necessary

Place the masa harina in a large bowl and stir in the salt. Add water and knead until the dough is firm but pliable. Form 12 balls of dough and cover them in the bowl with a damp  towel for 1 hour. 

Heat a flat pan over medium heat until drops of water dance and evaporate when flicked. Press between wax paper on a tortilla press or roll out into circles, then cook for about 2 minutes on each side. Fold stack of tortillas in a clean towel to steam for about 10 minutes.

homemade tortillas, imperfect and bumpy and tasty

notes 

If your dough is too crumbly, add water. If it's too sticky, add more masa. Do both a tablespoon at a time until you have a dough that is pliant, only slightly tacky, and does not crack. 

Make sure you form spheres, not ovals and not the somewhat "spinning top" shape used to make dumplings with thicker bellies. Your tortillas will roll out more evenly.

If your tortillas crack when they are rolled or pressed out, you need to add more water. Remove the cracked tortilla and add it back to the rest of the masa before you add more water to the entire batch. 

If your tortillas stick and pull apart on the wax paper when they are rolled or pressed out, you need to add more masa. Remove the sticky tortilla and add it back to the rest of the masa before you add more masa to the entire batch. 

I use a well-seasoned flat cast iron pan to cook tortillas. You can use a well-seasoned larger cast iron griddle if you have one to cook more than one at a time.

Patience is important; if you flip the tortilla too soon, bits of masa will stick to the pan and will eventually burn if you don't gently scrape them up quickly. 

Try, if you can without too much calamity, to burn the heck out of at least one tortilla so you get a feel for how hot is too hot, and how long is too long. You'll also learn when to turn the heat up or down with experience - I usually turn the heat down a bit for the last few tortillas as the pan gets very hot. I habitually undercooked my tortillas so they were still raw in the center before I accidentally burned one.

Cooked tortillas aren't perfectly smooth; in fact, you can tell when the first side is done by the small bumps that form. 

You'll soon get a sense for when to flip the tortilla, by the way it smells and the way the color changes. I tend to flip it the first time when the edges just start to curl up and remove it from the heat to steam after it has puffed up a bit, slightly inflated with air.  The tortilla will deflate when it is removed from heat. If you flip the tortilla too early, it's okay to flip it back.

Make sure you leave some time before serving to steam the tortillas in a clean kitchen towel. This helps the tortillas become flexible and soft. I do at least 10 minutes. I also turn the stack upside down when I finish the last one so that the hottest tortilla is on the bottom, steaming upward.

There's really nothing like a fresh, warm, homemade tortilla - and, once you get the hang of it, you can make more than a dozen in less time than it takes to pick up takeout!

a stack of tortillas

Old New World: Mayan ha tsikil kab

ha tsikil kab

The literal translation of ha tsikil kab is "squash seed honey water." Ha is water and kab is honey.  Tsikil, squash seeds, were an incredibly important part of the day-to-day Maya diet -  it is thought that the oil from squash seeds was the main source of fat for the pre-contact Maya! Squash seeds were also a frequent offering to agricultural deities, as was honey. These candies, combining those two important foodstuffs, are still made today. In this adaptation I use corn syrup instead - I thought it was a fitting substitution for the honey in a sweet from a society that also valued corn highly.

pumpkin seeds about to be pan-toasted

ha tsikil kab

makes about 36 candies

  • 2 cups pumpkin or other squash seeds
  • 1 cup corn syrup

First, toast the pumpkin seeds, either in the oven for about 5 minutes at 350 or on the stovetop until most are golden.  Place the seeds in a pot and add the corn syrup. Bring to a simmer - you'll be able to hear it hiss even if you can't quite see it - and stir constantly for about 5 minutes.  Drop tablespoonfuls onto wax paper and let cool. Store in a closed container.

ha tsikil kab, cooling on wax paper

notes 

I do use corn syrup here - something I have never purchased before! I used an organic non-GMO kind, but you could also try agave nectar, which is something that was known and used at the time. The Aztecs made a similar sweet of squash seeds "stuck together with cooked syrup" that was most likely cooked down maguey syrup.

Work quickly as the corn syrup gets tacky fast and will start to leave thin threads.  Use two spoons, one to scoop and one to help release the candy from the first spoon.

However tempted you might be to lick the spoons, don't. They will be hot and sticky! 

You might recognize the sikil in tsikil from sikil pak!  I'm not sure why it's spelled differently in this sweet application.

Recipe adapted from Mayan Cooking: Recipes from the Sun Kingdoms of Mexico by Cherry Hamman and America's First Cuisines  by Sophie D. Coe.

 

ha tsikil kab