If you love Mexican food but find it hard at times to locate good vegetarian options, Lorenza Muñoz has some ideas, as she explored in her article on Mexican vegetarian dishes for Food not too long ago.
"[M]eatless dishes actually have a long history in Mexican cuisine," she wrote. "The diet of the Aztecs and other Indians was heavy on grains, fruits and vegetables, and it wasn't until the Spaniards colonized Mexico that the carnivorous culture of pork and beef really became the backbone of what we now consider Mexican food."
Mexican lasagna: Take her version of this comfort food. Smoky poblano chiles are a perfect substitute for meat in this dish, a mixture of the slightly sweet, mild chiles and fresh corn lending rich depth of flavor. Layer lasagna noodles with the chile-corn mixture and a smooth, slightly tangy sour cream and fresh cotija cheese blend, topping with quesadilla and cotija cheeses and tomato sauce. Assemble the dish ahead of time if you like, so all you have to do is throw it in the oven when you get home.
Huitlacoche quesadillas: Huitlacoche, also known as corn fungus or corn "smut," may not sound like your first choice for quesadilla filling -- and you can fill your quesadillas with whatever you like -- but huitlacoche lends a definite earthy richness to the quesadillas, and a robustness similar to truffles to the finished dish.
Zetas with garlic and pasilla chiles: Finally, Muñoz's zetas -- or, mushrooms -- with garlic and pasilla chiles make a hearty dish that works wonders as a side or main course, and the whole thing comes together in less than 30 minutes.
You can find the recipes below.
Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Servings: 8 to 12
8 poblano chiles
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 onion, cut into rounds
1 cup corn kernels
1 chopped garlic clove
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup vegetable broth
1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
15 ounces (1½ 10-ounce packages) cotija cheese, divided
9 pieces oven-ready lasagna
6 ounces quesadilla cheese (1/2 of a 12-ounce package), shredded
1. Prepare the chiles: Roast the chiles under the broiler or over a stove-top burner until the skin is charred on all sides. Peel the skin and seed the chiles, then cut lengthwise into long strips.
2. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
3. In a large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the corn and chile strips, reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until the corn and chiles are warmed through. Remove from heat and set aside.
4. In a medium saucepan, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the tomato sauce and vegetable broth and heat until hot. Remove from heat and set aside.
5. In a food processor, combine the sour cream with two-thirds of the cotija cheese and blend until creamy but lumpy (this can also be done by hand in a large bowl, using the back of a spoon).
6. Line the base of a 13-by-9-inch baking or casserole dish with 3 lasagna noodles. Add one-half of the corn-chile mixture, distributing evenly over the noodles. Dollop one-half of the sour cream-cotija mixture over the corn and chiles. Place 3 more noodles in the pan, and repeat with the remaining corn-chile mixture and sour cream-cotija mix.
7. Place the 3 remaining noodles in the pan. Sprinkle the shredded quesadilla cheese and remaining cotija cheese over the noodles. Using a spoon, drizzle the thinned tomato sauce evenly over the noodles in the dish.
8. Cover the dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the cheese is melted and golden, an additional 10 to 15 minutes.
Each of 12 servings: 376 calories; 22 grams protein; 23 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 23 grams fat; 12 grams saturated fat; 54 mg cholesterol; 3 grams sugar; 1,006 mg sodium.
Total time: 25 minutes
Note: Huitlacoche can be found at select Latin markets; call ahead to make sure. It is also available online.
1 tablespoon oil
1/4 onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 serrano peppers, minced
1 (7-ounce) can of huitlacoche
6 to 8 (6- to 7-inch) corn tortillas
1 (12-ounce) package Oaxaca cheese, sliced
1. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the onions, garlic and minced peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the huitlacoche and heat until it begins to bubble, stirring frequently, then remove from heat and set aside.
2. Assemble the quesadillas: Heat a tortilla on the stovetop (this can be done directly on the stovetop or using a comal, or griddle pan). Add sliced cheese to one-half of the tortilla, and when it has melted, add a scoop of the huitlacoche mixture. Fold the tortilla over and hold in a warm place until all of the quesadillas have been assembled. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Serve immediately.
Each serving: 455 calories; 25 grams protein; 22 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 31 grams fat; 17 grams saturated fat; 76 mg cholesterol; 2 grams sugar; 478 mg sodium.
ZETAS WITH GARLIC AND PASILLA CHILES
Total time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
Note: Pasilla chiles are available in Latin markets as well as the Latin section of many well-stocked grocery stores. Epazote, a fresh herb, is generally available at Latin markets.
2 to 3 Pasilla chiles
3 tablespoons olive oil, more as needed
1/4 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 pound button mushrooms, sliced
1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, sliced
1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 dozen leaves of epazote, washed and cleaned
1/4 cup white wine
1. Prepare the Pasilla chiles: Place the chiles in a medium bowl. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, then remove from heat and pour the water over the chiles. Place a plate over the chiles to submerge them, and set aside for about 10 minutes to give the chiles time to soften. Drain the chiles, then stem and seed them. Slice the chiles crosswise into thin rounds and set aside.
2. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the oil, then the onion, garlic and Pasilla rounds. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened, about 5 minutes.
3. Stir in the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are tender, about 6 minutes. Off-heat, stir in the epazote and wine, then continue to cook, scraping the flavoring from the base of the pan, until the wine has mostly evaporated, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Each of 6 servings: 118 calories; 4 grams protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 8 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 2 grams sugar; 13 mg sodium.