Friday, April 06, 2007

April 4, 2007: Wednesday night Mexican

It's been a while since we entertained anyone in our home, but some newcomers to my workplace provided a good reason to pull out the biggest saucepan and buy an extra 6-pack of beer. Tracy and her partner Lee are the latest Brisbane migrants to Melbourne's inner north and from even further afield (the Northern Territory!), Beth has now taken up residence at a desk adjacent to mine. On Wednesday evening they gave me an hour or so head start from the office to cook up a Mexican-themed dinner at home.

On my previous night's planning, I made the decision to keep this weeknight meal quite casual and low-stress. This meant no-fuss appetisers and desserts, and a serve-yourself main course. Michael had picked out some perfectly ripe avocadoes and it didn't take too long to mash them with a very juicy lime and stir in some finely chopped red onion and a bit of sour cream. Voila! Tangy guacamole. I brought out the Chilli Factory salsa as a spicy side, and there were Coronas all round.

Michael can take most of the credit for dinner - an enormous pot of TVP/red bean chilli. This is the kind of hearty vegetarian dish that ensures we'll never hanker for spag bol: thick tomato sauce with chopped veges, red kidney beans and our favourite pseudo-mince ladled into bowls and garnished with a dab of sour cream. My contribution was to whip up a cheesy cornbread batter and bake it in a muffin tray. We kept the chilli and cornbread minimally spicy, offering pickled jalapenos and finely diced chipotles to cater for the varying tastes and tolerances among us.

For once, I showed a bit of restraint on the dessert front. Rather than poring over cookbooks for days and baking something rich and labour-intensive, I turned to Allergy Block for some theme-appropriate chocolate. I found the Green and Black's Maya Gold I was after and also picked up another doozy - dark chocolate with cayenne! Good news that it's organic, vegan and made with ethically-purchased cocoa. It was a pleasant 70% cocoa block and a slow burner - I was chewing for a good five seconds before I detected the cayenne, but it's an unmistakable heat at the back of the throat once it does arrive. The G&B's was everything I remembered it to be: smooth but not waxy and with an intensely orange and subtly spiced edge.

Admittedly this was a bit more involved than our usual weeknight meal, but we lost nothing in stripping the menu back from my more elaborate efforts of the past. When the guests have left and I'm stacking the dishwasher, I feel more satisfied from having spent time in good company than I ever will from huddling in the kitchen for hours on end, trying to impress with risky and complicated food.

Chilli with TVP
(from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1-2 teaspoons chilli powder
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 large red capsicum, diced
2 cups of TVP, re-hydrated in 2 cups of hot water
2 x 800g cans crushed tomatoes
2 x 800g cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2/3 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
Tabasco or other hot sauce to taste
salt, to taste
optional garnish of grated cheese or sour cream

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, frying the onions and garlic until soft. Add the cumin, coriander and chilli powder and stir well. Next add the diced zucchini and capsicum, cover and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the TVP and cook for a few more minutes until it's heated through. The canned tomatoes and beans go in next, then finally the parsley and seasonings. The chilli can remain covered on a low to medium heat, with occasional stirs, if you are preparing other food (such as delicious cornbread!). If the chilli is thicker than you prefer, thin it out with a little water or stock just a minute or two before serving. To serve, ladle the chilli into bowls or mugs and garnish if you wish.

Cajun Cornbread
(from Kurma Dasa's World Vegetarian Food)

1 cup polenta
1/2 cup plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika (substitute some or all of this with cayenne if you like)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced green chillies (optional)
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons oil
3/4 cup grated tasty cheese

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Combine the dry ingredients, polenta through to the optional chillies, in a bowl and mix well. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and oil. Combine the dry and wet ingredients (don't over-mix) and fold in the grated cheese. Spoon the mixture into a greased loaf pan, pie dish or muffin tray (I made 8 small muffin portions). Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden on top. Serve warm.


  1. Mum (it's Stu, son of Jane!) puts diced tomato in our guacamole which i highly recommend if you haven't tried it... adds a bit of texture and is also a cool, fresh contrast to the richness of avocado.
    Oh and she also adds some tabasco sauce for a bit of a kick. Also good...

    I am a big fan of her guacamole :P

  2. Hey Stu! Some diced tomato sounds excellent to me, but I'd have to get it past raw-tomato-hater Michael. On the other hand he'd lap up the Tabasco so maybe we can strike some sort of compromise. ;-)

  3. Have just discovered your wonderful blog as I have just become vegetarian at 59! Just a query...what is TVP and where do I buy it?

    1. Welcome, Christine! TVP stands for textured vegetable protein. You can find it at health food stores or, if you're on the northside of Melbourne, at the vegan Radical Grocery. It comes in dried granules that you can rehydrate with water. TVP has a texture similar to minced meat so it's great for pies, lasagna, spaghetti bolognese and so on.