One thing I go to a lot when developing a meatless recipe is heat. Spicy food often feels more satisfying to me, so when I want to cut something out, like meat, fat, or calories, I turn to heat. This meal started with a spicy pesto that I made using some of the peppers we smoked in our new grill over the weekend.
If you aren't lucky enough to have smoked jalapenos on hand, don't fret. Regular jalapenos will taste amazing after you roast them. Just rub the whole jalapenos with a little bit of cooking oil and put them under the broiler until their skin blister and blacken. Turn them over, and let the other side blacken as well. Remove them from the heat, and into a bowl of ice water. The peels should rub right off. Remove as much peel as you can, along with the seeds and stems.
The recipe for pesto makes more than enough for one meal of polenta and vegetables, so I suggest freezing the extra. Put it in one or two sandwich bags, and squeeze all of the air out, then stash it in your freezer for another time. You can also use the pesto to flavor soups, sauces, mayos, salsas, or dips.
I was unsure, at first, how to use the pesto for dinner. I considered tossing it with pasta, which is always nice, or using it to flavor a rice dish, but neither of those solutions really jumped at me. Then, I remembered polenta. I had a feeling that the sweet and savory, almost custard-like texture of polenta would play really well against the bold, spicy flavor of this pesto. I used ready-made polenta for the sake of time, but homemade polenta is fantastic and surprisingly easy to make. Homemade is an especially good choice for vegans, as store-bought polenta often contains egg or dairy. You can find a basic recipe for polenta, which also happens to be vegan on Epicurious.com.
I also put a dollup of black bean hummus on the plate. Zilks shared a selection of their locally made hummus varieties with me recently so that I could check them out, give a little feedback, and possibly spread the love. I tried all of their products, but found their black bean hummus to be especially interesting. It turned out to be pretty handy, and I found myself smearing it on all kinds of things. (Quesadillas, burritos, veggies, you-name-it.) If you live in Austin, you can pick up a tub of Zilks locally. If not, you can make your own black bean hummus by pureeing a can of rinsed, drained black beans with some lime juice, salt, and pepper. Add some chipotle if you are feeling daring.
Spicy Cilantro Pesto
Makes about two cups
- 1 bunch fresh, cilantro
- 1 cup roasted jalapenos
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- the juice from 1/2 lime
- salt to taste
Rinse the cilantro well to remove any sand. Pick through the bunch and remove the larger stems. It's OK for this recipe to leave the smaller stems. Place the cilantro in a food processor with the rest of the ingredients (except salt), and blend until evenly pureed. You may have to scrape the sides, and tap the food processor down a few times to get everything to chop evenly. Taste, then add a little salt if you like.
Polenta and Saute'ed Veggies
Makes about 4 servings
- 1 pound baked/prepared polenta, cut into 3 inch wide, 1/2 inch thick rounds or squares
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 3 cups bell peppers, chopped
- 2 cups zucchini, chopped
- several splashes of tequila, as needed (vegetable broth may be substituted for tequila)
- salt and pepper to taste
It's best to work with two pans, if possible, for this meal. I like to pan fry my polenta in a deep cast iron skillet, but any large skillet will do. Coat the surface with a little cooking oil or spray, then heat the pan to medium. Place the polenta in the pan, and allow them to cook until the bottoms are golden brown. Gently flip them over, and cook the other side as well. This will take a while, so in the meantime, you can prepare your vegetables in another skillet.
It's best to season all of your veggies with a little salt and pepper before you start cooking them. Place the pan over medium heat, and coat it with a little cooking oil. When the oil is nice and hot, add the onions and garlic. Saute the onions and garlic until golden brown. The best way to achieve a nice color on the vegetables is to allow them to cook, unmoved for at least a minute between tossing or stirring them. Just repeat that step over the course of several minutes and you'll wnd up with gorgeous veggies. Once the onions and garlic have a nice color on them, add a splash of tequila to the pan. Toss the onions in the tequila for about thirty seconds to cook off the alcohol. Remove the onions and garlic to a dish or bowl and return the pan to the heat.
Add a touch more cooking oil to the pan, then add the zucchini. You may have to cook the zucchini in two batches to avoid crowding the pan. Like the onions, you want the vegetables to get a nice seared color to them. Once they are finished, deglaze the pan again with tequila. Toss for 30 seconds, then remove the veggies to the same dish as the onions. Repeat these steps with the bell peppers. Once all the veggies are cooked, add them all back to the skillet and toss them together. Taste for seasoing, and add more salt and pepper if needed.
The polenta should be done by now, so go ahead and plate the veggies and polenta while they are piping hot. Garnish the plate with the pesto, and black bean hummus if you like.