I’m always on the lookout for vegetarian meal ideas because I try to plan three meatless dinners each week. My kids (and husband) would almost certainly be happy with a pasta dish on each of those days - and honestly I wouldn’t be too bothered about it either - but for the sake of variety and creativity and (probably) a trimmer waist, I usually mix it up with other vegetarian staples like eggs or beans and lots of hearty vegetables and grains. But beans and rice and frittata all get a little tired, no matter how many variations you try, so when I saw Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian at the library, I was so excited at the prospect of freshening up my meatless menus. And this book definitely delivers! It is impressively comprehensive. Bittman has so many tips and ideas and recipes with endless variations that I could use this book every day for a full year and still not have tried it all nor be tired of it. After looking through the book - and it is a huge book - I was almost tempted to go entirely vegetarian. It demands a change of mindset, one that takes those food groups generally thought of as supporting roles and makes them front and center. So challenging and creative!
…on the other hand, you can’t make carnitas without pork or a proper breakfast burrito without sausage or bacon, so…
But even if I stick to just a few vegetarian meals a week, this book has equipped me with a fresh approach. The vegetarian meals are no longer just “cheap” or “meatless” - they’re creative and delicious celebrations of often over-shadowed ingredients.
There are a whole bunch of unique recipes that I can’t wait to try, but first up was Cheese Enchiladas with Red Mole Sauce. Enchiladas are husband’s favorite, although I’ve never made them with red mole sauce. (Full disclosure: I had to make a few substitutions because of some grocery glitches. What I turned out was delicious, but the changes undoubtedly changed the dish a fair bit. However, it’s the kind of thing that could only be improved by using the real deal - like using butter instead of Crisco kind of thing. Check out my notes below!) This was my first attempt at mole sauce and man that stuff is yummy. Time consuming, but worth it. It is such a deep, complex, rich sauce - so much so that the simplest enchilada of cheese and tortilla is enough of a base. It is the slightest bit sweet, peppery, smooth and nutty with hints of chocolate and spices and is the absolute highlight of the dish.
Cheese Enchiladas with Red Mole
12 medium dried chiles, like guajillo, pasillo or ancho*
2 c. assorted nuts (I used a combination of peanuts, walnuts, and almonds)
1/4 c. tahini
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1 large onion, chopped roughly
1 head garlic, cloves peeled
4 plum tomatoes, cored*
2 slices white bread, torn into pieces
4 c. chicken stock (or vegetable for the truly vegetarian style)
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2-4 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground allspice
2 tsp anise seeds*
salt and pepper
brown sugar as needed
24 small corn tortillas*
3 c. shredded Monterey Jack
1/2 c. queso fresco, as garnish
1/2 c. chopped green onions or red onion, as garnish
1/2 c. chopped cilantro, for garnish
lime wedges, for serving (Don’t omit this. The acidity of the lime simultaneously cuts the richness of the sauce and highlights its flavor.)
Combine the chiles, nuts, tahini, cocoa, onion, garlic, tomatoes, and bread in a blender and blitz until smooth, using as much stock as necessary. (I used about 2 cups of stock.)
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the pureed mixture and the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cumin, allspice, and anise seeds and stir continuously until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to low and continue to cook the mixture, stirring every now and then, until the color and flavors are deepened, 15 - 20 minutes. Slowly add the remaining broth (watch the sputtering!), bring to a boil, and then turn down to the slightest simmer and cook for about an hour until smooth and thickened. Add more water or stock as necessary if the mixture is too thick. Taste and season with salt and pepper, and a teaspoon or so of brown sugar if needed. Remove the bay leaves. If your mixture isn’t totally smooth, return it to the blender and finish the job. At this point you can store the mole in the refrigerator for up to three days. Otherwise, continue on with the recipe.
Preheat your oven to 350. Spoon and spread some sauce over the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Roll about 2 Tbsp of shredded cheese up into each tortilla and fit them into the pan. They should be a bit tight. Cover with more sauce. (Any extra sauce can be saved in the fridge for a few days or frozen for later use.) Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and garnish with the queso fresco, onion, and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges. Recommended sides include rice, beans, tangy lime coleslaw, pickled jalapenos/red onions.
* I didn’t intend to diverge from the recipe but life happens, and with four kids it sometimes happens to frustrate your best laid plans. I can’t say my swaps are as good as the original - I highly doubt they were - but as far as I could tell they worked well enough. Still, I would encourage you to stick with the original if you can (except for the tortillas, because there’s authenticity and then there’s personal preference and in this case, at least, I think personal preference wins.)
Instead of the dried chiles, I used 3 Tbsp chili powder, 1 Tbsp paprika, and 1/4 tsp cayenne. I use the McCormick chili powder from Costco and find it to be pretty mild, both in flavor and heat. If you know your chili powder to be more intense, hold back some and only add to taste; likewise, if it is already quite spicy, hold off on the cayenne.
Instead of the four plum tomatoes, I used 14oz crushed tomatoes.
Instead of anise seeds, I used 3 star anise pods.
I used flour tortillas instead of corn.