Routinely Beautiful

Friday, April 12, 2013

   I would like to say first that I love daily routines. I love the comfort they offer and that they often keep me from making mistakes or forgetting important things.

   I love that if you look a little deeper, most routines have much greater meaning than it may seem on cursory observation. For instance, every morning I pour my coffee into one particular bright yellow mug; it is old and has a hairline crack in its side that (knock on wood) doesn't leak. But I don't drink from it every single morning because of its cheery color, although I also love that; I drink from it because my sister gave it to me and it always reminds me of her. Despite being the closest of friends, we've had to live very far from each other for the past six years and this small ritual makes me feel just a touch closer to her.

   But when abused, routine can rob us of possibilities for excitement, improvement and adventure. Steve and I have three restaurants that we absolutely adore and could happily spend the rest of our lives rotating through. But ironically, some of my fondest memories are of date nights we stepped away from our usual stomping grounds, tried a new restaurant and hated the food! This happened once on our anniversary and although the night could have been a complete disaster, I've never laughed harder as I watched Steve make fun of the fussy plates, ridiculously small portions and bland food.

   I invite you to remove a little routine from your meal sometime in your near Tex-Mex future: walk right past the tortilla and taco aisle and head straight to the leafy greens. Instead of baked flour and cornmeal, pick out the prettiest, leafiest bunch of collards you can find.

   Collards and other hearty leafy green wraps are pretty popular in the plant based eating world and you can find many variations on this beautiful, crunchy, fresh theme. After some experimentation, these little 'tacos' are our favorite invention so far. Superior flavor and texture aside, this is also an excellent way to remove a bit of refined grains from your diet.

   I hope you deviate slightly from your usual taco routine and give these a try. While you're at it, take a moment to appreciate how, when pressed next to each other on a serving platter, they look like lovely green collard flowers, all fancy and frilled. And I promise, unlike the occasional terrible restaurant, these you will love.

Collard Green 'Tacos'

6 small to medium sized collard green leaves (leafy parts about 5 inches long)
1 large onion, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups spinach, packed tight for accurate measurement
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (less if you don't like your tacos spicy)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup salsa

   To prepare the collards: wash each leaf thoroughly. Trim the bottom 2 inches or so of woody stem off. Set the leaves aside on towels to dry (you may need to dab the water droplets off later once ready to fill the tacos).
   In a medium sized fry pan, add the beans, broth, spices, salt and salsa. Turn heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Once it begins simmering, mash the beans with a fork until most of them are coarsely broken apart. Simmer, mixing every once in a while, until enough broth evaporates that a thick 'refried bean' texture is achieved. Turn heat off, taste and add additional salt if needed.
   Meanwhile, in another fry pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a few pinches of salt and cook until very tender, brown and caramelized (takes 10-15 minutes). Add the spinach and cook just until the spinach is barely wilted.
   To assemble: cradle a collard leaf in your hand; spoon about 1/3 cup bean mixture down the center. Place some of the onion/spinach saute on top. Optional: top with guacamole (recipe to follow) Squeeze the sides gently to create a 'taco' shape. Continue with the rest until the ingredients are used up.
   Serves two.

Variation: Collard Quesadillas

6 collard green leaves
Beans, prepared as above
Onions/Spinach saute, prepared as above
Guacamole, see recipe below

   Lay down a collard, spread a layer of the beans on top, then spread a layer of onions/spinach on top of the beans. Lay down another collard, spread a layer of guacamole on top and finish with a final collard leaf. It's a fork and knife sort of thing and just as tasty as the tacos.
   Makes two.

And don't forget burritos...

The One and Only Guacamole

2 avocados
Juice from 1 lime
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
Scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (adjust according to your desired level of heat)
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

   Place all ingredients in a bowl. Mash with a fork until a smooth to slightly chunky texture is achieved.


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