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Mucho Gusto

Spring’s Spicy-Sweet Potato Crisps

In my habitual attempt to advance a controversial opinion, I have decided what I want my new statement-piece penny thought to be: if spring had a flavor, it would be sweet and spicy. 

My nonconformist calculation derives itself distinctly from one, and only one, piece of evidence—the New England weather.

Is the season sweet with the sun emerging in and the winter parka disappearing in the back corner of your closet? Or, conversely, is it the “spiciest” few months in the Northeast with forecasts far more unpredictable than reliable? I assure you, it’s a bit of both. There is a simultaneous beauty and nearly worrisome spontaneity to spring, yet the season harmonizes the uncertainty and brings us months that we must savor. 

With a taste of spring on our tongues in the first week of April, this maple chili sweet potato crisp recipe proves the unmatched matrimony of sweet and spicy, and demands us to relish in the flavorful spirit of the season. This dish fits as the perfect complement to spring greens or that first piece of chicken cooked out on the grill. As it is surely time to let go of the chunky, dense sweet potato bites that remind you of that old winter sweater, these thinly-sliced sweet potato crisps will give you that crunch to prelude a summer plate of fish and chips – while, of course, adding some of the heat we are so desperate to see on the forecast. 

You’ll find that the flavors mutually amplify one another in every bite. It is the gift of their pairing, with nothing else quite able to compare. It is a perfect balance that appears contradictory, yet guarantees to intrigue one’s taste buds in every bite.

Ingredients:

2 large sweet potatoes

1 tablespoon chili flakes

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves minced

1 teaspoon honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:

Preheat your oven to 425 °F. Then, prepare the sweet potatoes. First, slice them in half lengthwise. Placing them on their flat side, slice the potatoes thinly, just under a quarter-inch to guarantee a crispy product. Next, soak your potatoes in a mixing bowl filled with cold water and a few ice cubes for 10-15 minutes. The cold water is a quick and easy trick to help your potatoes cook more evenly. After this, drain the water and pat the slices dry. Transfer your potatoes into another mixing bowl and add olive oil, maple syrup, chili flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the potatoes well to evenly coat them in the spicy syrup mixture. Then lay the potatoes out on a baking sheet and drizzle with honey and fresh minced rosemary leaves. Once the oven is preheated, place in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until desired crispy texture. Be sure to turn over the potatoes roughly halfway through to ensure they are evenly cooked. Once finished, top your sweet and spicy potatoes on a summer salad or include them as a side to any meal. Enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Delicious Meets Healthy

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Mucho Gusto

Mascarpone Stuffed Dates

Loved by many cultures and incorporated into many dishes and traditions, dates are one of my favorite foods. From snack time to dessert, their gooey, caramelized sweetness and jammy, chewy texture are always a pleasant surprise. On their own, they are a great source of natural sugar for whenever you want an energizing snack. I know dates can be a bit controversial (perhaps for their appearance and gummy texture), but they actually complement many foods really well. Some of my favorite unusual date combinations are sticky-sweet dates stuffed with any nut butter, PB&J, ricotta cheese, Greek yogurt, mixed nuts, or even tahini. When an exploding pocketful of flavor only takes a few minutes to prepare, why not cut your date down the middle and stuff it with goodies! It’s like the ultimate, upgraded version of Gushers—a favorite childhood snack you know and love, but a little more mature and complex in the flavor profile. 

With Easter coming up, there’s no better time to test out a new combination in your own home! These pomegranate-pistachio-and-mascarpone-stuffed dates are Floreani family approved, and I guarantee they will be a crowd pleaser in your own home too! With a harmonious balance of sweet date, rich mascarpone cheese, salty pistachios, and refreshing pomegranate seeds, this unique treat is an exciting flavor experience. This finger food is also fun to eat because of its diverse textures; each bite is filled with a nutty crunch, followed by a gush of mascarpone and gooey, chewy date, and finishes with a juicy pomegranate-seed-pop in your mouth! An interesting twist to add to your Easter appetizer plate or an upgrade to your charcuterie board, these dates are so simple to make and can easily be adapted to fit tastes of all ages. For a more savory take, wrap them in bacon or prosciutto; for a sweeter version, add drizzles of honey, maple syrup, and spices. Plus, with their unique colors and shape, they even look a bit like Easter eggs—tasty and festive!

Ingredients:

  • 18 large Medjool dates
  • 4 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened to room temperature (can substitute cream cheese)
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon orange zest
  • ¾ tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons pistachios, salted and roasted
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
  • Pinch of sea salt

Procedure: 

Start by preparing your dates. With a knife, slit the dates down the middle, enough to form a pocket, but without cutting all the way through the date. De-pit the dates. After letting the mascarpone cheese soften at room temperature, put it into a mixing bowl. Combine the mascarpone cheese with the lemon zest, orange zest, honey, and salt. Mix until it is smooth and uniform. Using a spoon, stuff each date with a generous scoop of the mascarpone mixture. The ratios of mixture-to-date can be varied to suit your preferences and the size of the date. Then, add the pistachios and pomegranate seeds to each date by hand, keeping the amount proportional to one another on each one. Top with a pinch of flaky sea salt and arrange on a platter. Store in the fridge until ready to serve. If you want the mascarpone to melt a bit, and the dates to be caramelized, put them in the oven at 375 °F  for about 4 minutes, or just until warm. Enjoy!

Adapted from Mascarpone Stuffed Dates with Orange, Pistachio, and Pomegranate

Cover photo courtesy of Spices In My DNA

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Mucho Gusto

World’s Best Almond Milk

College is a challenging and rewarding new experience. Young and idealistic teens anticipate going for years. Everyone knows to expect hard tests and raging parties (global pandemic permitting, of course), but the most impactful moments are often unexpected. Let me give you an example from my own experience. You’re a happy-go-lucky college student, who has a sudden hankering for a bowl of cereal. You fill a bowl with your cereal of choice; your excitement builds as you do. You open the fridge, reach for the carton of milk, and pick it up only to be met with immense disappointment. There’s no milk. This harrowing experience is what inspired this recipe. Making plant based milks is a relatively straightforward and easy process, but before discussing how to, we’ll take a look at the main ingredient of my preferred milk, almonds. 

Almond refers to both the almond tree and it’s seeds. The tree itself is a deciduous tree of the botanical name Prunus dulcis. It belongs to the Rosaceae family, which encompasses several other popular foods including but not limited to pears, cherries, and apricots. Almond trees grown for agricultural purposes can grow anywhere from ten to fifteen feet tall and their flowers are white or pale pink. The almonds themselves are not technically nuts, but instead the seeds of the almond fruit. The technical term for an almond fruit would be a drupe, which is any single seeded fruit. Almond fruits are not much larger than almonds and are similar in shape but have a greenish brown leathery flesh that surrounds the seed. 

Almond trees are native to Iran and other Middle Eastern countries, and later spread throughout Northern Africa, the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. They are a culturally significant crop in almost every region they have reached, which can be attributed to their early cultivation. The first mentions of domesticated almond trees began as early as the bronze age, approximately 3,000 BCE to 2,000 BCE. 

Almonds made their way to the United States in the 1700s and have since found a comfortable spot in the Western United States. Supplying ninety percent of the world’s almonds, this nut is one of the most valuable and highest exported agricultural goods of California, which has the perfect warm climate to grow the Medterranean plant. Despite the crop’s importance to California’s export economy, there are debates about it’s sustainability due to the high water consumption of almond trees. A single almond takes over a gallon of water to produce. This may seem wildly unsustainable at a glance, but when placed into the context of other milks and milk substitutes almonds are still a good option if you’re concerned about their environmental impact. For example, the nuts in a gallon of almond milk will use about 84 gallons of water. This may seem unreasonable, but a gallon of dairy milk will use about 880 gallons of water, more than 10 times as much as it’s plant based counterparts. If sustainability issues were what was stopping you from enjoying some delicious nuts, just know you can enjoy your almonds in moderation.

In addition to their diversity and versatility in the kitchen, almonds provide a host of health benefits. They are packed with fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins, which can be beneficial to  the brain, the skin, and cardiovascular health. Turns out digging into a tub of almond butter or a box of French macaron might have secondary benefits outside of tasting great.  

Although this recipe is for almond milk, the same processes can be applied to make all sorts of plants based drinks, whether it may be other nuts or even oats. It is a little extra effort, but what you gain will be one of the best milk drinking experiences of your life. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw unsalted almonds
  • 3 cups water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon sweetener (optional)

Instructions:

Place the almonds in a bowl and cover with water. Let the almonds soak for 12 to 16 hours in the refrigerator. After the almonds have soaked, drain the nuts and transfer them to a blender. Add 3 cups of fresh water and blend on high speed for 60 – 90 seconds. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth and add salt or sweetener if desired. You’re now ready to enjoy some of the best almond milk in the world. Whether it’s with cereal, in coffee, or just to sip. This recipe will make 3 cups. Enjoy!  

Cover photo courtesy of From The Larder

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Mucho Gusto

Avocado Toast

Whether you love it or hate it, avocado toast is the quintessential brunch dish. Though some call avocado toast “basic,” its popularity is well deserved. Be it the crunch of the toast, the buttery texture of the avocado, or the satisfying golden run of an egg cooked to perfection, avocado toast has a little bit of everything you want in a dish. 

Humans began cultivating avocados in Mexico around 500 B.C. and the fruit eventually made its way to California in the 19th century. Over the years, avocados gained popularity for their unique nutty flavor and oily texture, which was perfect for guacamole, as a taco topping, and— especially in the  2010s—in the form of avocado toast. According to the USDA, the American per capita consumption of avocados has tripled since the early 2000s. 

Now, I can’t say whether the avocado toast trend contributed to this, but regardless, avocado toast is both simple and delicious. The everything bagel seasoning adds a salty crunch to the toast while the slight drizzle of sriracha combined with the egg yolk provides a creamy, sweet and spicy finish to the dish. To give the recipe more flavor, I like to add lemon juice to the avocado.

Because avocado is such a versatile ingredient, this dish is also very flexible. If you don’t have lemon juice on hand, use lime juice for a slightly different but nonetheless delicious citrusy edge. No everything but the bagel seasoning? Not to fear! Use a little bit of garlic salt and a sprinkle of black pepper instead. With so much adaptability, this recipe provides room for experimentation. I prefer a poached egg, but any style of egg will do. If you don’t like eggs, use a few sliced cherry tomatoes as a sweet and tangy topper instead. For an added kick, I like sriracha, but for those who can’t handle spice, a sprinkle of crushed black pepper will do the trick. With this recipe, the only non-negotiable ingredient is the avocado. 

Next time you’re craving a quick and filling breakfast (or if we’re being real, lunch or dinner), or simply want to impress your friends with a speedy, yet, scrumptious meal, this not-so-basic recipe has got you covered. 

Ingredients:

Procedure:

To begin, place a medium-sized pot filled halfway with water on medium to high heat. Bring the water to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil, toast the two slices of bread in a toaster for 1 minute and 30 seconds. Add the diced avocado and lemon juice to a bowl. Using a fork, mash the avocado until the mixture appears well-combined and textured. Once the toast is ready, divide the avocado mixture evenly between both slices of toast and spread evenly with a fork. Sprinkle the everything bagel seasoning onto the toast. 

Once the water is boiling, poach the eggs, two at a time. To do this, crack two eggs into the gently boiling water. Let the eggs sit in the boiling water for 1 minute and 15 seconds, or until cooked before carefully removing them from the water with a slotted spoon. Place both eggs on one slice of toast and repeat the process for the second slice of toast. Once finished, to add a kick, drizzle some sriracha over the eggs, sprinkle on a little black pepper, and voila! You have yourself two slices of avocado toast that rival any restaurant brunch. 

This recipe makes 2 avocado toasts (Feeds 1 or 2 people).

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Mucho Gusto

Chicken Shawarma

From the aesthetically-pleasing whipped coffee, to the new-and-improved tortilla fold, and the infamous baked feta pasta, TikTok is leaving its mark on culinary pop culture. Since we’ve been swapping old-school cookbooks for social media and using scrolling as the new way to savor, I’ve pulled a page from TikTok’s book, taking inspiration from its new obsession with feta cheese for this recipe. 

Feta cheese combines a sharp flavor with a softer texture. While typically produced and purchased in a firm block, feta crumbles easily to make the perfect topping for many Mediterranean dishes. The cheese originates from Greece and continues to be a highly-consumed and produced good in the region. Its salty taste balances more mild dishes and ingredients, such as vegetables. Its use as a garnish never fails to make your meal look top-dollar even with limited prep time. 

After visiting GreCo, a casual Greek restaurant on Newbury Street in Boston, I decided to intertwine my desire to indulge continually in Greek-inspired food and my wish to tackle the feta trend in one recipe. 

Here, I present an easy and undeniably tasty meal wrapped up in my favorite thing: bread. In this dish, warm pita pockets hold shawarma chicken, Mediterranean salad, tzatziki sauce, and—of course—feta cheese. Shawarma is the cooking term used to describe how the meat is stacked on a spit and slowly roasted in a traditional Middle Eastern kitchen. However, this recipe allows for the simpler approach of preparing the chicken on a stove. While not perfectly authentic to the Greek preparation, this meal guarantees to replicate many of the wonderful spicy flavors with ease for anyone new to the kitchen. And not to forget, the feta’s tangy flavor promises to complement the abundance of robust spices, while the creamy tzatziki sauce further mellows the dish. 

Ingredients:

Shawarma Chicken:

2 pounds boneless chicken breast

1 tablespoon olive oil

Juice from 1/2 lemon

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Mediterranean Chopped Salsa:

1 cucumber, peeled and chopped

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 medium red pepper, chopped

1 small sweet onion, chopped

10-15 Queen stuffed green olives, sliced

1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Olive oil to coat

Salt and pepper to taste

Tzatziki Sauce:

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/2 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons tzatziki spice (can be bought pre-made or made at home with the combination of 2 tablespoons of dill, 4 cloves of minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste)

4-6 pita pockets

Procedure:

First, cut the boneless chicken breast into thin strips. The strips should be roughly a finger-length long to make for an easy fit into the pita pockets. Next, in a large bowl, combine the chicken, lemon, oil, and spices. Toss the chicken well to be sure it is coated evenly in the mixture. Allow the meat to marinate while you prepare the salad and sauce. 

In a large bowl, combine all the chopped salad ingredients. Add just enough olive oil to coat the vegetables, then season with salt and pepper to taste. In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt and sour cream, then season with tzatziki spice. 

To cook the chicken, heat a cast-iron skillet until hot. To test if it’s ready, drop a bit of water on it; if the water sizzles, the pan is hot enough. Add a little oil and then some of the chicken to the skillet. It’s important not to overcrowd the pan. Allow the pieces to brown for 1 to 2 minutes before turning them. Because the pieces are thin, they will cook in only 4 to 5 minutes. When the chicken slices are done, transfer them to a bowl to keep warm while you finish cooking the rest of the chicken. 

Next, halve your whole pita breads to create open pockets that can deliciously and effectively carry the chicken and Mediterranean salad. Once halved, lightly warm the pita pockets in a skillet. Place the chicken in the opening of the halved pita pockets with the salad and tzatziki sauce. Garnish the top of your open pita pockets with crumbled feta cheese, serve, and enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Blue Jean Chef

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Mucho Gusto

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza

Who doesn’t love pie? From the crunchy yet buttery, golden-brown crust, to the gooey cheese and aromatic, vibrant tomatoes—yes, cheese and tomatoes!—pie is the ultimate comfort food. I’m not talking about your grandma’s favorite dessert, but rather a Chicago classic: deep-dish pizza. We Chicagoans nickname this dish “pizza pie” for its signature thick, pie-like crust, straight out of the pie pan! This pizza is an absolute staple for any trip to the Windy City, and if you ask me, it’s the best—although perhaps I am a bit biased! I know New York is the city of dreams (and pizza), but as a proud Chicagoan and Italian-American, I must say that Chicago might have them beat with this popular city staple! Some may say that’s controversial, but I don’t think anyone can deny that deep-dish pizza is a unique, unforgettable dish. When I’m homesick, I crave this traditional slice of local comfort; when I am home, I still crave deep-dish pizza at least once a week! What’s not to love—it’s the same cheesy tomato and crust combo you know and love, but much larger and richer, in the perfect fusion of Italian and American cuisine! Plus, this pizza is special because it always means sharing time and food with friends and family; it’s a big meal requiring an hour or so to prepare, which allows everyone to gather around the table together and make memories. 

In the era of  COVID-19 and travel bans, it’s difficult to be adventurous, visit different places, and try new foods. However, thanks to this recipe, you can have an authentic taste of Chicago in your own home! You can enjoy the comforting warmth of a thick slice at your own kitchen table with your loved ones. Over winter break, my dad taught me how to make his beloved secret recipe, and it was the perfect cure for the quarantine blues. Topped with fresh, high-quality ingredients and a hearty heap of cheese, everyone loves this spin on pizza, and making it at home is always a fun activity. Take a bite, and welcome to my hometown, where “home, sweet home” is always a slice of pizza pie! 

Ingredients:

Dough

  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 package quick-rise yeast
  • 1 cup water, room temperature
  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • ½  cup olive oil, plus additional oil for the bowl

Sauce

  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes, well-drained and crushed by hand
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup white onion, diced finely

Toppings

  • 1 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into rounds
  • 3 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • ½ pound sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 2 green and/or yellow bell peppers, sliced
  • 3/4 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound bulk Italian sausage, cooked and crumbled
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, for topping and garnish
  •  2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped, plus more for garnish

Procedure:

To make the pizza dough, mix the sugar, yeast, and water together. Add the flour, salt, cornmeal, butter, and olive oil to this mixture, and combine for about two minutes. Next, let the mixture rest for about 15 minutes, allowing the yeast to bloom. Knead the dough gently for about seven minutes, until moistened, smooth, and elastic. If necessary, add extra flour to stiffen the dough. If the dough is too stiff, fix the ratio so that there is more water to hydrate the dough. Thoroughly oil a separate bowl, placing the dough inside, making sure it is evenly greased. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place overnight, if possible. However, a minimum of 30-40 minutes can work as well. By this point, the dough should have doubled in size. Punch the dough down and let it sit for another 15 minutes. 

While the dough rises, make the pizza sauce. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the canned tomatoes, olive oil, seasonings, 1 tablespoon of basil, and the garlic cloves. Add about ¼ of the chopped onion to the mixture as well. Cook the sauce for about six minutes, stirring often. At this point, the sauce should be smooth and fragrant, and the onions should feel soft. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Add more basil and olive oil to taste.

Preheat the oven to 450 °F. Using your hands and a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a large, thin circle. The dough should be stretched evenly. Add flour as needed throughout the process to prevent the dough from sticking to the surface. Be careful not to dry the dough out, or it will break. Grease a large 12-inch cast-iron skillet, stretching the rolled-out dough over the pan, almost like a pie crust. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides to form a thick crust. Place the slices of fresh mozzarella on top of the dough to help bind everything together. Place this in the oven for a few minutes, or until the cheese has melted and formed a complete layer. Then, sprinkle the grated mozzarella, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, shallots, garlic, and Italian sausage on top of the pizza. Ladle the sauce on top and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. You can place foil on top of the pizza to prevent browning. Let the pizza rest for 10 minutes before cutting into pie-like slices. Enjoy! You’ll need a fork and knife for this one!

Adapted from Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza Recipe & Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza

Cover photo courtesy of Saving Room for Dessert

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Hotel Room Guacamole

Sometimes life places us in difficult or unfamiliar situations. For example, you may find yourself isolated in a hotel room for the foreseeable future, desperately craving a fresh and tasty snack because the prepackaged ones just aren’t cutting it anymore. You may look at this completely hypothetical dilemma and wonder, “what should I do?” Well, fret no more, reader! I have the perfect solution: hotel room guacamole. It’s fresh, tasty, and surprisingly easy to make, even with minimal resources! In my opinion, all you need is avocado, lime, and the ever-controversial cilantro. 

Coriander, also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley, belongs to the Apiaceae family of plants, making it related to carrots, parsley, and celery. Cilantro has been used for millennia, dating as far back as 5,000 BCE in the Medditeranean. Its first major cultivation was by the Egyptians, who used cilantro for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Romans are credited with spreading coriander to the rest of the Eurasian continent, while the Spanish brought the herb to the western hemisphere in the late seventeenth century. 

The semantics of the herb are convoluted. In the United States and Canada, coriander usually refers only to the plants’ dried fruits; elsewhere, coriander refers to the entire plant. The word coriander is derived from the Greek word koris, which translates to bed bugs, because the  ancient Greeks thought the aroma of the plant was similar to that of the insects. Cilantro is the Spanish name for the coriander plant, but in North America, cilantro has come to mean only the leaves and stems of the plant. 

Despite its long history and significance to many cultures, cilantro isn’t loved by all. Even culinary legend Julia Child proclaims her hate for it. This widespread disagreement goes beyond personal tastes; there is a scientific reason some people don’t like cilantro. Scientists have identified more than three genes that negatively affect our perception of the herb. The genes in question concern our olfactory sensors, which allow us to smell and taste. Individuals with these genes perceive cilantro as tasting overly strong or “soapy,” and it can overpower other ingredients. When cooking for others, it’s often a good idea to make sure they’ll eat cilantro beforehand or have a suitable replacement ready. 

Even though I must acknowledge the unfortunate individuals that can’t enjoy cilantro, I can’t relate, and my guacamole would be incomplete without it. The bright herbaceous flavor of cilantro pairs perfectly with avocado. Beyond its controversial ingredient, this guacamole recipe is as simple as it gets. It is truly a barebones rendition of what guacamole can be, so feel free to modify, add, subtract, or substitute as you please. This recipe is a fantastic dip, condiment, or snack that can be made and enjoyed anytime or anywhere. Eat it with chips or toast, or use it to zest up your meals in quarantine.

Hotel Room Guacamole 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 ripe hass avocado 
  • ½ lime 
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp finely-chopped jalapeno, seeds removed
  • 1/4 cup cilantro or cilantro substitute, chopped 

Instructions: 

Peel, pit, and chop the avocado into large chunks. Add the zest and juice of half a lime to a bowl containing the avocado chucks. Add the onion, jalapeno, and cilantro to the bowl, and mix until the guacamole has reached your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste, give the guacamole one final mix, and enjoy. It’s as simple as that! Feel free to dress it up—or down—as much as you’d like. You can try using different peppers, onions, or even spices. I even like to add a few drops of honey or agave nectar to introduce some sweetness, which compliments the acidity and spice of the guacamole. 

Cover photo courtesy of Love and Lemons

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Mom’s Special Soup

Gusto’s fall issue is almost here. In order to get it to readers safely, we will be distributing the publication through a signup option. If you would like a copy, fill out this Google form by November 13.


This is the fifty-fifth installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!

Adorning cornucopia, dining tables, windowsills, and mantles, winter squash are fixtures of the fall and winter seasons, similar to auburn leaves and wool scarves. They introduce vibrant colors into the home, come in all shapes and sizes, and the best part—they’re delicious! Winter squash are found across the world, but it is easy to wonder how they became such a salient artifact of Western tradition.

The term winter squash encompasses a staggering amount of gourds, ranging from decorative pumpkins to sweet butternut squash, but what makes winter squash unique is the time of year they are grown, their maturity, and how long they can be stored.  Winter squash are planted in late spring after all danger of frost has passed, since the seedlings are incredibly delicate.  Most  varieties are harvested during late summer and early fall. Unlike summer squash, which are eaten at a comparably juvenile stage of growth, winter squash are mature at the time of consumption. Their late harvest is what lends the winter squash’s hard rinds and drier interiors, both of which result in a longer shelf life. Winter squash were a Native American staple for this very reason: they could be harvested throughout the fall season and eaten throughout winter. 

Additionally, winter squash are simply fantastic seasonal vegetables when considering both flavor and nutrition. They boast high levels of vitamins, particularly vitamins A and C, and are also high in fiber. This is not only beneficial for digestive health, but also means winter squash can be a hearty and filling addition to soups, stews, or when served as a side. Their versatility,  whether boiled, baked, or steamed, provides countless options for anyone looking to add them to their diet for their health benefits, or just to enjoy a fresh vegetable in season.

In my household and many other Haitian homes, winter squash is most commonly found in the form of soup joumou, a hearty soup filled with vegetables, noodles, beef, and pureed squash. The soup is a slightly spicy dish, filled with the hallmark flavors of Haitian cuisine, and holds a deep cultural significance. It is often enjoyed on New Year’s day, during celebrations of Haitian independence, and at significant personal events such as weddings or funerals. To me, though, joumou represents the epitome of comfort food. As days get shorter, evenings get colder, and the holidays approach, soup joumou is always on the table, to warm us up and bring our family together. Below you will find an adaptation of my mother’s squash soup recipe. It is a vegetarian dish that provides the Haitian flavors of soup joumou without beef.

Diana’s Squash Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium calabaza squash, peeled and gutted
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and gutted 
  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 2 scallions
  • 2 to 3 ( approximately ½  pound) carrots, peeled
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4-5 sprigs parsley 
  • 1 scotch bonnet pepper (optional) 
  • ½ lbs peas, fresh or frozen
  • 1 piece stale white bread
  • ¼ cup heavy cream 
  • ¼ cup butter

Instructions 

Begin with the mise en place. Chop the calabaza and butternut squashes into approximately 1 inch cubes. Peel and chop the onions into roughly ½ inch pieces. Remove the stem and seeds from the bell pepper and chop into roughly ½ inch pieces. Cut the scallions and carrots into approximately 1 inch lengths. Peel and crush the cloves of garlic. The garlic does not have to be minced, just broken. 

Next, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the garlic, scallions, onions, and bell pepper; sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and the edges of the onion become translucent. At this point, add the squash, parsley, and carrots. If you want to make the dish spicy, add the scotch bonnet pepper as well. Cover the vegetables with 1 to 2 inches of water, and bring to a simmer. Continue cooking the vegetables until the squash and carrots are tender. Add the peas and cook until tender as well.  

Next, if used, carefully remove and discard the scotch bonnet pepper. Transfer the vegetables to a blender, and add enough cooking liquid to cover, and carefully puree. Be cautious, as the mixture will be incredibly hot. Once the vegetables have been reduced to a smooth consistency, add the white bread in small pieces through the feed port of the running blender. 

Transfer the pureed mixture into the pot with the remaining cooking liquid. Gently bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally until a desired thickness is achieved. A good measure is when it is able to coat the back of a spoon. 

Finally, add the heavy cream and mix. While constantly stirring, slowly add the butter, approximately ½ tablespoon at a time. Make sure the butter is fully incorporated into the mixture  before adding the next increment. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and enjoy! I hope this soup can bring you as much joy as it brings my family.

Cover photo courtesy of Love and Olive Oil

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Mucho Gusto

Lilly’s Blackened Fish Tacos

This is the fiftieth installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!

It is difficult not to derive a certain nostalgia from the last dish I made at home. Reminiscent of a fleeting moment, it whispers a reminder of summer’s finality. For me, it is a meal that is characterized not entirely by flavor, but by the company in the kitchen. A recipe rightly prepared in an organized symphony of the sizzling of fish and the mother-daughter banter over the adequate amount of sriracha. 

There is a distinct spirit of summer communicated through this dish. And so, I share this recipe with indescribable urgency as the influx of pumpkin spice begins to overwhelm the aisles of Trader Joe’s. It is in insistence to grasp the vanishing moment by your taste buds, to seize the peaches off of the shelves before it is too late. My recommendation is not to regard the calendar, but rather, to devour the last bite of August—even if it is already October.

Living on Cape Cod requires a tolerance for seafood. Ironically, I am a recent addition to the fish-eating crowd. What I’ve learned from each and every tourist-grab on the corner of this and that beach is the gravity of spices when it comes to preparation. Most of all, I can affirm—from personal experience—that wrapping seafood in a tortilla can persuade even the biggest fish skeptics.  

This fish taco recipe captures robust flavors in an impeccable pairing of textures. Blackened fish, peach salsa, and a drizzle of sriracha aioli compose an effortless unity of sweet, savory, and spicy that insists on your indulgence. 

Ingredients 

For Fish Tacos:

  • 1 1/2 lbs thick-cut fish (options include cod, halibut, mahi-mahi, or grouper)
  • 8 flour tortillas
  • Blackened seasoning (can be homemade or store-bought)
    • 3 teaspoons of smoked paprika
    • 1 teaspoon of onion powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
    • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
    • 1 teaspoon of cumin
    • 1 teaspoon of chili pepper
    • 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
    • 1 teaspoon of adobo seasoning
  • 1/2 cup shredded red cabbage 
  • 1 cup spinach leaves 
  • 1/4 cup scallion, chopped 
  • 1 cup small tomatoes, halved 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

For Peach Salsa:

  • 1 ripe peach, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons jalapeño, finely minced
  • Salt to taste

For Sriracha Aioli:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 to 1 fresh squeezed lime
  • 2 tablespoons of sriracha

Instructions:

In order to serve the fish hot off the stove, I recommend preparing the toppings first. To make the salsa, combine the peach, onion, jalapeño, cilantro, olive oil, and lime juice in a bowl. Mix the ingredients well and season to taste with salt. Then, cover and chill the salsa until ready to serve. Mango can also function as a substitute for the peach; its sweetness will also add balance to the spice of the jalapeño and sriracha aioli.

Next, place the shredded red cabbage, spinach leaves, scallions, and cherry tomatoes into small serving bowls to be set aside for additional toppings. For the sriracha aioli, mix the mayonnaise, lime juice, and sriracha together in a small bowl. The mayonnaise mellows the heat of the sriracha, and the amount you use can be adjusted to your spice preference. The lime adds flavor while liquifying the consistency of the thick mayonnaise, allowing the aioli to be lightly drizzled onto your taco. 

Cut your choice of fish into large, finger-length chunks to allow for more spice coverage, faster cooking, and an easier fit for the tacos. I prefer grouper, but any thick-cut fish, such as cod, halibut, or mahi-mahi will work. Once cut, generously coat all sides of the fish with the blackened seasoning and set aside. The spice blend can be easily store-bought or quickly-prepared in the combination of paprika, onion powder, sea salt, garlic powder, black pepper, cumin, chili pepper, cayenne pepper, and adobo seasoning. 

 In a large skillet, preferably cast iron, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Lightly swirl the olive oil to evenly coat the bottom of the skillet. As the olive oil starts to sizzle, place the fish in the skillet, and cook each piece for approximately 3 minutes per side or until the fish is completely cooked and significantly charred on the edges. 

While the fish is cooking, heat the tortillas in a non-stick skillet until warm and browning on the edges. Take the tortillas and fish off of the stove and place them on separate serving platters. Allow your guests to create the tacos to their liking, adding the peach salsa, fresh-cut produce, and spicy aioli as toppings and enjoy!

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Mucho Gusto

Maya’s Cacio e Pepe Pasta

This is the forty-sixth installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!

Loved by kids and adults alike, buttered noodles are a timeless, homey classic. From the gooey, melty cheese to the perfectly cooked pasta, this simple dish is the perfect comfort food for all. I mean, who doesn’t love cheesy, buttery pasta?

It is no wonder why there are many versions of this iconic dish in different cultures. Coming from an Italian family, cacio e pepe is what my family likes to call our preferred version of buttered noodles. Whether we are in a rush or sitting down for a Sunday night pasta dinner party with the whole family, cacio e pepe is a tasty, satiating dish that we always welcome. I remember my excitement when my Nonna would whip up this decadent meal for me after a busy day of playing outside and helping my Nonno in his vegetable garden in the backyard. This dish also brings up fond childhood memories for my dad—he recalls coming home from school and seeing his favorite warm meal prepared with love by his mom, waiting on the kitchen table, ready to be enjoyed. This dish is a nostalgic staple for generations in our family, like in most Italian households. It is simple enough for a kid’s pallet but is still rich, savory, and satisfying every time—perhaps some would even say, the culinary equivalent of a warm hug from a loved one. 

Cacio e Pepe is similar to pasta in Bianco or buttered noodles. It is an ancient Italian dish dating all the way back to the Roman Empire. Legend has it that this recipe started as an easy, practical food for the shepherds because it was durable,  easy to carry, did not take long to prepare, and did not spoil quickly. As the name, which translates to “cheese and pepper,” implies, cacio e pepe is a simple dish. With just two main ingredients prepared carefully with the right cooking technique make this dish so delicious. While the recipe can vary from region to region, I’m sharing my dad’s recipe, which he learned from his northern Italian parents. No matter which recipe you follow, high-quality Italian ingredients are a must. Authentic to the style of the Romans, an abundance of freshly ground black pepper and imported grated cheese are critical to achieving the great flavor. Together, with the pepper, cheese, and pasta, the high-quality elements with bold flavors combine to form a harmonious, hearty meal. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb of pasta, any of your choosing
  • ½ – ¾ stick of butter
  • 2 cups of pasta water
  • Approximately ½ cup 2% milk
  • Approximately ½ cup cheese, freshly grated, as desired
  • Salt and pepper, to taste, but heavy on the pepper

**It is also important to have a large, heavy saucepan for the best results; it will distribute heat gradually and evenly without burning the ingredients. 

Directions: 

Start by boiling a pot of water over medium heat. The water should be well salted, with at least one teaspoon. Once the water is boiling, add your pasta of choice. A rough-surfaced pasta is more desirable, as it can hold more of the sauce, but any type works for this versatile dish. Traditionally, tonnarelli is used, but long spaghetti works well too. Bow ties and shells can also be good for adhering to the smooth, creamy sauce. Cook the pasta over medium heat for approximately 6 minutes. Be sure to not overcook the pasta—you want it to be al dente, so it is okay to turn the heat off a bit prematurely while it still feels a bit hard. It should have a tender “bite” or snap when you are trying it. Once the pasta is cooked to perfection, set the pasta aside and save at least two cups of the pasta water. 

In your heavy saucepan, prepare the sauce—the star of the dish. Start by cutting the butter into chunks and placing the pieces in the saucepan under low heat. You do not want the butter to burn or brown the butter—just lightly melt it.  Add the pepper to the butter as it melts. Next, add the milk. Finally, add the cheese. Emulsify it slowly with a couple of ladles of pasta water, and mix it all together. Be careful when adding the milk to the sauce as it can easily overheat and curdle, causing the fats to separate from the water. Use this technique when making the sauce so that it becomes silky and smooth and has the proper consistency: Have the heat on a light simmer and gently stir the components together. Then, slowly add some high-quality grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese. 

Once the sauce is light yet rich, it is ready. Turn off the heat, add the pasta to the sauce, and toss.  Make sure to evenly coat the pasta. You can vary the ratios of cheese and pepper to your liking, but be sure to finish off the dish with lots of black pepper for serving; it should be visibly seen in the pasta. Ѐ finito! Buon appetito! 

This recipe feeds about 4-6 people. 

Photo courtesy of people.com