Sunday, October 28, 2012

Iron Chef: Hot Chiles, Sunflower Seeds and Grapes

Today's Iron Chef entry is brought to you by the foods Hot Chile, Sunflower Seeds and Grapes. As I looked at this list of ingredients I was instantly psyched because hot chiles were part of the challenge. Sunflower seeds, no problem. It was the grapes that had me stumped. The only way I usually tend to consume grapes is in a good wine. I don't usually care for them with savory stuff and I figured a lot of my challengers would go the sweet route. What to do?

At first I was going to tackle a brunch dish. I had planned to make a breakfast sandwich. I thought maybe some type of biscuit with sunflower seeds in it and maybe some type of chile-grape jam. I set about making the jam and it ended up being the texture of applesauce. Had I not been so bummed out I may have thought to use it in a scone or something like that. Instead, I scrapped brunch as it was after 1pm by now.

I decided to get back to my love of the great Southwest and its flavorful and spicy personality. First I made a cilantro-sunflower seed pesto.

Cilantro-Sunflower Pesto

Yields 1 1/4 cups

3 cups lightly packed cilantro leaves (small stems are ok)
3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients except for the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine then run processor until well chopped. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and let run until pesto is fairly smooth, scraping the sides once or twice.. Add more salt to taste if needed. Will keep in refrigerator for up to two weeks and will freeze for 6 months. GF

Next I got to marinating some tofu see recipe below.

Cilantro-Sunflower Pesto Marinated Tofu

1/2 cup vegetable broth
3 Tablespoons Cilantro-Sunflower Pesto
1 tablespoon Aji Panca Paste (can be found in some hispanic markets or online)
1 tablespoon low sodium tamari
8 oz. extra firm tofu, drained, pressed and sliced into 8 equal rectangular pieces

In an 8 x 8 baking dish whisk together marinade ingredients. Add tofu in a single layer. Marinade for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, turning once.

Tofu can be grilled or baked in marinade.

Then I set about using those pesky grapes. I have to say the results far exceeded my expectations! This is what I came up with:

Grape-Avocado Pico de Gallo

1/2 cup green and red seedless grapes, quartered
2 medium red tomatoes, diced about 1/4" dice
1/2 cup tightly packed cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 very hot fresno (red) chile pepper, finely diced*
2 tablespoon red onion finely diced
juice of one lime
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
 1 small avocado, peeled and diced

In a medium sized bowl, combine grapes, tomatoes, cilantro, hot chile pepper, onion, lime juice, cumin and salt. After they are well combined, gently fold in diced avocado. Let sit for about 30 minutes to let flavors meld. Serve immediately. GF

* I feel it is very important to use a pretty hot variety of chile. It contrast the sweetness of the grapes beautifully.

So I had all the players lined up. I first thought I would make a tostada. That was until I realized after two trips to the store this morning, I had no lettuce or cabbage in my house. Two times was enough, so I switched gears. I had some corn tortillas in the fridge and a big ol' bottle of canola oil left over from a cooking class. Have you figured out where I'm going with this yet? Taquitos!!

Pesto Marinated Grilled Tofu and Black Bean Taquitos

1 recipe Cilantro-Sunflower Seed Pesto Marinated Tofu (see recipe above), reserve 1 tablespoon marinade
1 - 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup Cilantro-Sunflower Seed Pesto (see recipe above)
12 corn tortillas
1/3 cup Daiya Mozzerella Shreds
Oil for frying

Preheat grill to 350. Oil grill grates. Place sliced marinated tofu on hot grill and brush with marinade. Grill for 5 minutes or until nice grill marks appear and tofu is golden. Turn and brush other side with marinade. Grill for 5 more minutes until tofu is golden and slightly firm. Dice into 1/2 dice and set aside.

In small saucepan, combine black beans, 1 tablespoon reserved marinade and 1/4 cup pesto. Simmer over medium heat until beans are heated through. Gently stir in tofu and remove from heat.

Heat oil to 350. If you don't have a thermometer, use a small piece of tortilla to test heat. If it bubbles slightly, you are ready to go. It is really important to make sure the oil is not too hot or your taquitos will fall apart.

Assemble taquitos.

Take one tortilla at a time and place in oil for about 10 seconds to soften tortilla. It is very important to do this step to prevent tortillas from breaking apart. Carefully place softened tortilla on a paper towel lined plate. On end of tortilla closest to you, sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons shredded Daiya. Scoop approx. 2 tablespoons tofu-black bean mixture over Daiya in a straight line. Gently roll tortilla over filling until it resembles a cigar.

Here is the tricky part. These little guys like to unroll when you put them in the oil. I suppose you could use a pick to hold them shut, but they can tear pretty easily, so be careful if you pick 'em shut. If you successfully pick them, you could probably cook 2-3 at a time. I chose to cook one at a time and gently place them in the oil, seam side down, immediately holding the taquito with tongs using very light pressure. Fry for about 3 minutes, then turn over. Fry for about 2-3 more minutes or until beautifully golden. Using tongs drain excess oil from both ends of taquito. Place on paper towel lined plate, and repeat for remaining tortillas.

Serve immediately with a healthy serving of Grape-Avocado Pico de Gallo (recipe above).

Don't forget to comment on yesterday's post by midnight MST tonight (10/28/12) for a chance to win Vegan a la Mode...cuz you need a frozen dessert after this dish! The winner will be announced tomorrow!


  1. Oh my goodness, the taquitos with a huge pile of the guac...yes, please!!!

  2. Wow this looks incredible and I would have never thought of trying Grape-Avocado Pico de Gallo. Very creative! I'm loving Vegan Iron Chef because you all come up with the wildest ideas.

  3. What a creative use of the ingredients! The pico de gallo is especially inspired, and I really want to eat the whole dish!