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Tag Archives: Mexican food

Gracias Madre, West Hollywood

For my birthday this year, I told my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law that I would love to go out for lunch.  I had suggested a place with both vegan and omnivore options, but after some research, my mother-in-law very thoughtfully suggested Gracias Madre.  Gracias Madre is a 100% vegan restaurant that began in San Francisco and recently opened another location in West Hollywood.

Gracias Madre, West Hollywood | A Vegan in Progress

My first impression was that the restaurant was really pretty – very light and airy.  It was a beautiful LA day, so the restaurant was open to the patio.  The seating was very comfortable, with a variety of benches and chairs at every table, and it wasn’t too crowded.  We were seated on the patio.

Gracias Madre, West Hollywood | A Vegan in Progress

We were offered a water as well as sparkling water and were brought a carafe of both.  It took a while to order and I think it was for a couple of reasons.  For me, I’m not used to being able to order literally anything on a menu, but for Eric’s family, I think it was a little foreign for them to be navigating a vegan menu.

We started with a couple of appetizers – the Gorditas and the Papas al Horno.  The Gorditas, described as “potato-masa cakes topped with warm salsa verde, avocado, and cashew crema,” were wonderful.  I loved the potato-masa cakes and the toppings were very fresh.  The Papas al Horno, described as “roasted potatoes with olive oil and garlic topped with chipotle cashew nacho cheese,” were cooked well and tasted fine, but not worth ordering them again unless you love potatoes with cheese.

I ordered a Tamal because I have always loved tamales and don’t get to have them often since they aren’t usually vegan.  Their tamal is a “stoneground heirloom masa steamed in the husk filled with sautéed butternut squash, poblano peppers and onions, served with beans and escabeche.”  The tamal was the right texture, with flavorful filling, but there wasn’t enough of it.  Mostly, I tasted masa and the salsa I topped the tamal with.  The beans that accompanied it, though, were creamy and delicious.  My sister-in-law ordered the same thing and liked the dish as well.

Eric got the Enchiladas con Mole, “spicy mole enchiladas topped with mushrooms and cashew cheese, served with sautéed greens and beans.”  He absolutely loved them and let me have a bite.  I’m definitely not a fan of mole in regular circumstances, I don’t really understand using cinnamon and chocolate in a savory sauce.  However, this stuff was amazing!  I could taste every little thing in the sauce, kind of like when I had a bowl of Emeril Lagasse’s gumbo from his Steakhouse in my pre-vegan days.  Next time we go to Gracias Madre, I may order this dish for myself!

My mother-in-law got the tacos, “three corn tortillas topped with seared cauliflower, grilled calabaza verde, and mushrooms. Topped with cashew crema, served with beans.”  I had a bite and thought that they were very tasty, but I’m not a huge fan of mushroom texture.  However, I think I might order these in the future, they were that good.

My grandmother-in-law ordered the El Plato, which was a little of everything and came with tortillas.  The menu describes it as “butternut squash, cashew nacho cheese, plantains, cilantro pesto, escabeche, rice, pico de gallo and beans.”  She really enjoyed her fresh and plentiful dish.

Overall, I was very impressed with Gracias Madre.  The service was very good and timely throughout the meal and the food was all very fresh and well-prepared.  The prices were also decent for the upscale feel of the restaurant.  Despite having ordered fresh-squeezed juices and appetizers for a party of five, we spent only about $30 more than the time that three of us dined at Mohawk Bend.  I will definitely be back to Gracias Madre!

Vegan Recipe – Southwestern Pepper Casserole

Eric is not a huge fan of beans, so I tried adapting the recipe from a previous post, Dual Dining – Southwestern Black Bean Casserole, to make it without the black beans.  All I did was substitute bell peppers and onion for black beans.  So basically, this is just a Southwestern Pepper Casserole now.  It tastes really great and isn’t as heavy as beans.

Southwestern Pepper Casserole | A Vegan in Progress

Here’s an update of what the bell pepper mixture looks like.

INGREDIENTS:
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 a white onion
2 bell peppers (I used one red and one green)
1/2 cup fat-free, low-sodium vegetable broth
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
4 low-sodium whole-wheat tortillas (or 6 corn tortillas)
12 ounces salsa, no added sugar
1 cup shredded Daiya vegan cheddar cheese
1 (2.25oz) can sliced olives (optional)

STEPS:

1.  Preheat oven to 375°.

2.  Chop bell peppers and onion.  In a medium skillet, add oil; heat over medium-low heat.  Add garlic, and sauté until tender, about 4 minutes.

3.  Add bell peppers and onion, and continue cooking approximately 5 minutes.  Add cumin, black pepper, salt, and cilantro; stir to combine.

4.  Spray the bottom of an 8×8-inch casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray (I used a 7×11 inch casserole dish and it worked just fine).  Add a tortilla (or tortillas if you are using a rectangular dish), a layer of bell pepper mixture,  a layer of salsa, and a layer of cheese; continue layering until all ingredients have been used. Top casserole with remaining cheese.  I sprinkled sliced olives on top of mine.

5.  Cover casserole dish with foil, and bake approximately 20 minutes or until cheese is hot and bubbly. Remove foil, and continue cooking 8–10 minutes. Remove from oven.

Vegan at Chipotle

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It’s no secret that it’s easy to get a vegan meal at Chipotle.  It’s my favorite casual dining restaurant because I don’t feel like I am compromising by having a flavorless, boring meal or making anyone else compromise by having to eat the same food as me all the time.

Up until recently, eating vegan at Chipotle has meant simply ordering a meatless bowl, salad, burrito, or taco, without pinto beans (cooked with bacon) and without cheese or sour cream.  It’s not a bad arrangement, either.  The meatless option means free guacamole!

However, now California Chipotle locations are offering Tofu Sofritas as an alternative to meat and simply meatless meals.

Vegan at Chipotle | A Vegan in Progress

Thank you, Chipotle!

According to their website,

“We start with organic tofu from Hodo Soy that we shred and then braise with chipotle chilis, roasted poblanos, and a blend of aromatic spices.

The result is a delicious, spicy tofu that will give vegans and carnivores something they both will love.”
A close up of my burrito with delicious Sofritas and an assortment of salsas.

A close up of my burrito with delicious Sofritas and an assortment of salsas.

It’s no joke, either.  Sofritas are filling and spicy and make for an awesome option that everyone can enjoy.  Hopefully they will do well in California and Chipotle’s corporate heads decide to offer them at all of their locations across the US, the UK, Canada, and France.

UPDATE:

Sofritas were ruled a success in test markets and plans are in place to make them an option at all Chipotle locations!

Vegan Recipe – Soy Chorizo Skillet

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I realize that have been sorely behind on my posts of vegan recipes that I have tried.  I haven’t had much time or need to cook recently, but here’s a simple recipe that I adapted from my husband’s breakfast skillet recipe.

Vegan Recipe of the Week – Soy Chorizo Skillet | A Vegan in Progress

Action shot – you can see the steam coming off of it!

Funny enough, he’s the Mexican one, but I like things a lot spicier than he does.  I would say that this recipe comes out to medium spiciness.  If you like medium strength salsa, you will probably like it.  Feel free to adjust it to your tastes.

Soy Chorizo Skillet | A Vegan in Progress

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 russet potatoes
  • Olive oil – enough to coat the bottom of the pan
  • About 1/3 of a bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 handfuls of baby spinach (I only used one, but it shrinks a lot, so a second handful would have been good)
  • About 1/3 of a package of soy chorizo (a textured vegetable protein with Mexican spices)
  • 1/4 cup of chunky salsa (I used Trader Joe’s chunky salsa)
  • A sprinkling of Chef Merito Chicken Seasoning, which is actually vegan (I purchase this at the local Vallarta Supermarket, found only in California, but any Mexican market would likely have it)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Add oil to the pan and let it heat up while you peel and cube the potatoes.
  2. Add potatoes to the pan and stir.
  3. Sprinkle Chicken Seasoning over potatoes, stir them so that all potatoes get a golden tint.  You don’t want more than that because the seasoning is pretty salty.
  4. Add chopped bell pepper.
  5. Toss spinach in skillet and stir.
  6. Taste-test a piece of potato.  If it is soft, mix in the chorizo and salsa, if it is still firm, let it cook a while longer.
  7. Wait for chorizo and salsa to warm up to the temperature of the potatoes, then serve.

This makes a delicious, slightly spicy breakfast that is great in a bowl with a glass of orange juice.  I would imagine that it would also be great wrapped in a tortilla.

Vegan at Hugo’s Tacos, Woodland Hills

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Hugos logo

Hugo’s Tacos is a small restaurant chain that recently opened a location walking distance from our home.  I hadn’t realized the many vegan options that they offered until my husband stopped by one night to pick up something for himself and excitedly called me, asking if I would like to try anything.

The chain’s three locations are in Atwater Village, Studio City, and Woodland Hills.

Their menu and website are both clearly marked for vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free preferences.  Almost everything is vegan or can be made vegan, and when you order something with soyrizo, they make sure to ask if you want vegan cheese.

Hugo's Woodland Hills

From the Hugo’s Facebook page

The way their menu works is that diners may choose from tacos, burritos, bowls, tostadas, nachos, quesadillas, tortas, and green tamales, and then choose one of their 7 fillings.  There are 5 meat fillings and 2 vegan ones.  Vegans can choose from soy chorizo, a spicy soy “meat” grilled with diced potatoes and zucchini or mixed veggies and herbs, a mixture of zucchini, squash, cauliflower, corn, potatoes, and onion.  They also have salads which can be topped with any of their fillings or taquitos (either chicken or soy chorizo filling) with served with white beans, lettuce, guacamole, Pico de Gallo, tomatillo and jalapeno salsa with cheese (which you can order to be vegan).

I tried quite a few of their offerings, you know, for the sake of reporting it to you.

Let me start with my two favorites so far.

Hugo's Tacos - Vegan Nachos | A Vegan in Progress

Hugo’s Nachos

Their vegan nachos are delicious.  They came a bit burned around the edges, but not enough to take away from the meal at all.

The vegan cheese was tasty and the white beans were a nice alternative to black beans.

I should mention that Hugo’s has a selection of 7 salsas, only one of which is not vegan.  I tried all six of them and my favorites were the Pico de Gallo and the tomatillo and jalapeno.

I will definitely order this time and time again.

Hugo's Tacos - Vegan Burrito | A Vegan in Progress

Hugo’s Burrito

For this burrito, I ordered the mixed veggies and herbs filling.  It also has Spanish rice, salsa, and white beans.  I will definitely order this again.  It’s a fun alternative to Chipotle’s burrito, being that it tastes a little more authentic and sinful.

Hugo's Tacos - Green Tamales | A Vegan in Progress

Hugo’s Green Tamales

The green tamales come with such plentiful veggie and salsa toppings that you can’t even see the tamales at first glance.  They were tasty and I definitely liked the veggies and salsa, but I’m not very fond of sweet corn tamales, so I think that’s what made this dish third out of the five that I have tried.

Hugo's Tacos - Green Tamales | A Vegan in ProgressLast, on a whim, I tried their vegan quesadilla, cheese only.

Hugo's Tacos - Vegan Quesadilla | A Vegan in Progress

Hugo’s Vegan Quesadilla

Vegan cheese is kind of temperamental and doesn’t always melt like regular cheese does.  In the case of my quesadilla, the cheese was hardly melted, but was at least warm.  Salsa helped.  It wasn’t horrible, but I probably won’t order it again because there are better choices.

Not pictured is their soy chorizo taquitos.  They aren’t very pretty and are a little dry, but that could be because I was ordering pretty late.  The guacamole added some needed moisture.

My main complaint about Hugo’s is that their food tends to be a bit bland.  Their tomatillo and jalapeno salsa saves the day, though, and adds spice and flavor to everything.  Their restaurants are great places for dual dining.

Vegan Recipe – Chorizo and Sweet Potato Enchilada Casserole

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This recipe of the week comes from The Vegan Slow Cooker: Simply Set It and Go with 150 Recipes for Intensely Flavorful, Fuss-Free Fare Everyone (Vegan or Not!) Will Devour, which I have been slowly working my way through.  I have been meaning to post it for the last week, but I went back and forth about whether or not I should post a photo.  The recipe makes a great mid-week meal, but it is by no means an impressive one that you should make for company.  Simply said, it comes out looking sloppy.  I am not even posting photos of it because I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying it.  It was a really tasty meal and made for great leftovers, so give it a try.

I really liked the soy chorizo, which reminded me of a spicy ground meat.  Also worth noting, we used two sweet potatoes instead of the one listed in the recipe.  I had never cooked with sweet potatoes before.  I know, I was in a serious rut before becoming vegan!  Anyway, I didn’t know that there were many types of sweet potatoes (including purple ones!), so I accidentally bought “dry-fleshed” sweet potatoes.  The dry-fleshed sweet potatoes are white on the inside, firmer, and less sweet.  I thought the recipe worked well with this type of potato, but I’m sure it would be very good with a sweeter, orange “moist-fleshed” potato, although you may only want to use one due to the sweetness.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 medium-size sweet potato, thinly sliced
  • 2 to 3 cups enchilada sauce
  • 1 package (11 oz) corn tortillas
  • ½ package (12 oz) soy chorizo
  • 1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed

** You can use crumbled tofu in place of the chorizo if you want a gluten-free version.  Use beans instead to make it a soy-free dish.

THE NIGHT BEFORE:
Store the sliced sweet potato in an airtight container in the fridge. (You could also just slice it in the morning as your first step.)

IN THE MORNING:
1.  Oil the crock of your slow cooker (or use a liner) and pour one-fourth of the sauce over the bottom.
2.  Cover the sauce with a single layer of tortillas and top with one-third of the chorizo, one-third of the sweet potatoes, and one-third of the black beans.  Top with another one-fourth of the sauce.
3.  Repeat the layering (starting with the tortillas) two more times, cover with a final layer of corn tortillas, and spread the remaining sauce on top.
4.  Cook on low for 4 to 5 hours, or on high for 2 to 3 hours.  If your slow cooker runs hot, pour on a little extra sauce to keep it from drying out.

At first bite we thought that the dish was very dry.  We each topped our servings with some salsa (Eric preferred tomatillo and I used traditional) and the dish became really tasty and spicy.  The next day I took leftovers to work and tossed a pinch of Daiya pepperjack cheese on top about 30 seconds before the end of the microwave cycle.  I enjoyed the extra cheesy-ness, but it was great without it as well.

Dual Dining – Southwestern Black Bean Casserole

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I have to sing my husband’s praises a little bit.  He is a major meat-eater, but he has really started to become more open minded about my new dietary choices.  Yesterday, he brought me a recipe that could easily be made vegan and asked me to make it for dinner tonight.  It’s Southwestern Black Bean Casserole, found here.

We were expecting some friends over, so I made it with both vegan and traditional cheese.  It came out about 40% vegan and 60% otherwise.  I carefully sprinkled the cheese so that it would be easy to cut and separate the servings by diet.

INGREDIENTS:
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fat-free, low-sodium vegetable broth
2 (15oz) cans black beans, drained
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
4 low-sodium whole-wheat tortillas (or 6 corn tortillas)
12 ounces salsa, no added sugar
1 cup shredded 2% Cheddar cheese / Daiya vegan cheddar cheese
1 (2.25oz) can sliced olives (optional)

STEPS:

1.  Preheat oven to 375°.

2.  Drain beans, set aside.  In a medium skillet, add oil; heat over medium-low heat.  Add garlic, and sauté until tender, about 4 minutes.

3.  Add black beans and broth, and continue cooking approximately 3 minutes.  Add cumin, black pepper, salt, and cilantro; stir to combine.

4.  Spray the bottom of an 8×8-inch casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray (I used a 7×11 inch casserole dish and it worked just fine).  Add a tortilla (or tortillas if you are using a rectangular dish), a layer of black bean mixture,  a layer of salsa, and a layer of cheese; continue layering until all ingredients have been used. Top casserole with remaining cheese.  I sprinkled sliced olives on top of mine.

5.  Cover casserole dish with foil, and bake approximately 20 minutes or until cheese is hot and bubbly. Remove foil, and continue cooking 8–10 minutes. Remove from oven.

Southwestern Black Bean Casserole | A Vegan in Progress

Daiya Vegan Cheese on the right, regular cheese on the left

Next time, to make things simpler, I will probably just use two smaller Pyrex dishes for the different cheeses so there is no chance if it melting over to the other side.  You can see very clearly in the photo above the two different types of cheeses.  In terms of taste, I found the Daiya cheese to be a close replica of its dairy counterpart.  In terms of looks, it doesn’t melt nearly as well as regular cheese and is slightly unappetizing for those who aren’t used to it.  The recipe is very simple, tasty, and easily customizable so we will probably make it again.  Everyone enjoyed it enough for seconds.