This entry may be of interest to anyone who (a) likes food, (b) eats, or (c) is always looking for a good recipe. This particular meal is great for vegetarian friends, and it doesn’t take all day to prepare.
I was talking to my husband the other night over dinner, and we got to chatting about comfort food for some reason–for me, that’s meatloaf and homemade macaroni and cheese. I got curious, so I asked Andres, “What was your comfort food growing up?”
He answered: picadillo (ground beef cooked with tomatoes and miscellaneous veggies, similar to goulash) and queso guisado (which translates to cheese casserole). I had no idea what that was, so he tried to describe the dish (challenging since he hadn’t eaten it in like twenty years. His mom doesn’t cook much these days). At any rate, it apparently has tomatoes, peppers and panela cheese. “This cheese is mild, white, and crumbly. Like Queso Blanco it will not run when heated–it will get soft and creamy but will not lose its shape.”
Good to know, thought I. After dinner last night, I went to Google for guidance. To my dismay, there was little in English, so I shifted to recipes in Spanish. Andres had offered to ask his mother how she made it years ago, but I’m something of a kitchen pioneer and I love to invent my own recipes (assuming I can’t find one online). I did manage to find one basic recipe in Spanish, but it was astonishingly unhelpful. To whit: “Take seven big tomatoes, put them in a pot with 10 pesos worth of fat peppers, add some oil and cook until the liquid does something or other…” What is 10 pesos worth of fat peppers anyway? Wouldn’t it depend on how long ago the recipe was written? And for that matter, what’s a “big” tomato? I found some tomatoes I thought were big, and seven of them would’ve made enough queso guisado to feed an army.
I decided there was no help for it — I would have to invent my own recipe. I had some basic idea what I needed, so I went to the farmer’s market yesterday and bought the tomatoes and fresh peppers. I had other ingredients already on hand. So without further ado, here is my recipe:
13.5 ounces / 380 grams of premixed salsa (your choice of heat)
3 large tomatoes (they were 4-5 inches across), well diced
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 poblano pepper, chopped fine
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1 sweet yellow pepper, chopped
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (maybe 3 tablespoons if you’re the measuring sort)
Garlic powder, sweet paprika, paprika / cayenne pepper, paprika / chipotle, salt and pepper to taste. (I can’t give measurements because individual spice preferences are going to vary.)
Up to two scant handfuls of raw brown sugar
1 pkg of panela cheese
In a saucepan, mix the salsa and all your chopped / diced veggies. Don’t be shy about the mixing. It’s going to boil down into a lovely sauce. Then add your seasonings to taste and drizzle your olive oil atop the lot. Let it cook down for a good 15 minutes on medium heat, keeping a close watch on it. You don’t want it to burn, so you’ll be stirring every five minutes and checking up on it. Now give it a taste. See if it needs more of anything.
You’ll also be assessing the acidity of your tomatoes at this point. That’s what the sugar’s for — not to sweeten the whole dish, but merely to knock the edge off the acidity. If you’ve got lovely sweet tomatoes, you won’t need much sugar at all. So you’ll swirl that brown sugar in until it the dish tastes spicy, but mellow. Once you’re satisfied with the way it’s seasoned, cook it another 10-15 minutes on low. That will turn your veggies a delicious sauce. If the people in your household are funny about chunks, you can run it through your blender to get a uniform texture.
At this point, you cut the panela cheese into cubes and drop it into sauce. Let it simmer on low for about 10 minutes, allowing the cheese to soften and warm, take on some of the other flavors. Don’t worry about the cheese melting away to nothing.
And that’s it! You have a tasty, wonderful vegetarian dish. This can be served with rice; I imagine it would do well with couscous too! It also goes nicely with beans, as shown here. This is our actual dinner from tonight: arroz a la mexicana to the left, queso guisado to the right, and frijoles blancos down below. Enjoy! And if you try it out, do let me know.