Life Cafe Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

LIFE’S FAMOUS VEGGIE CHILI MADE IN SPAIN

December 6, 2012 – A few blast from the past photos of the earlier days at Life Cafe that you may enjoy . . . . and then on to the CHILI !

Ice-T during a Law and Order Shoot at Life Cafe East Village

Life Cafe around 2010

Early Life Cafe, East Village

Life Cafe, New York City, around 2002

I was missing the old days and feeling the need for the spice and warmth of Life Café’s famous Veggie Chili a few weeks ago. But I was missing three important ingredients: CHILES! Dried Guajillo, Pasilla or Chile Negro or Poblano (the dried form of the Chilaca chile) and Ancho, those dark, rich, flavorful Mexican spices that give heat and depth to the dish.

What was I to do? Go shopping! The local markets offer vast quantities of fruits, vegetables, olives, cheeses and even an incredible assortment of very fine used clothing. I was confident I would be able to find dried chiles.

They grow very big cabbages in Spain

Totana Outdoor Market

At the Wednesday Totana Market there is a spice vendor. The aroma of his spices in his bins, which you can smell 10 feet away, is sublime, no comparison to the little glass jars you get in a supermercado (supermarket).

Looking into the Spice Vendor’s Bins

Searching through the Spice Vendor’s Bins

He didn’t have the Mexican chiles. Spanish food is not hot like the summer temps of the country. Rather, it’s mellow and lush, like the population. I had to improvise like I’m known to do in the kitchen. I usually prepare meals from the ingredients I have on hand. Anyone can do this, if you don’t mind cooking Bohemian! I’m still formulating precisely what that means, just for fun. But basically, it means make do with what you have, grow it if you can and keep it simple using fresh, seasonal ingredients, the basis of much of Spanish cooking.

Being bohemian – art lived at both Life Cafes

For the “made in Spain” chili recipe, I used locally grown dried nora and what all the market vendors called pimento chiles. As far as I can tell, these are dried red peppers and taste sweet. Because they’re not hot, I added a couple of tiny dried hot cayenne peppers from my pepper plant in my windowsill herb garden to give my chili some heat. In the end I was lucky to find mirasol chiles. I read that they are known as Guajillo in their dried form, which are one of the main chiles used in traditional mole sauces. I also added about five sun dried tomatoes to this chili paste to give it more intensity, seeing as I didn’t have Hector’s blend at hand.

Getting ready to make Life’s Famous Veggie Chili in Spain

Below is a version of the actual Life Café Veggie Chili Recipe that I revamped last year with the help of Hector, the head cook at Life Café Bushwick.

Hector and his Bushwick kitchen gang. (Illustration by John Sunderland)

I told Hector I wanted a chili that was less tomato-based and built more around beans, legumes and veggies. Hector enhanced the chili spice component wonderfully with his blend of spices in the chile paste. It’s rich, flavorful and warming.

My favorite way to eat Life Chili is for breakfast with a poached egg, short grain organic brown rice and a sprinkle of sharp cheese. It satisfies my craving for Life’s Breakfast Burrito. What a great way to start your day! For me, it’s also an antidote to missing Life Café!

Life’s Famous Veggie Chili made in Spain with grated cheese on top

This recipe makes about 5 quarts, or around 10 hearty bowls. It keeps well in the fridge for several days, and it gets better over time. If you don’t think you can use it up within a week, freeze it in 8 to 16 ounce portions in freezer bags to thaw and use whenever you need it – for a Life Chili Omelet, chili topped with melted cheese as a dip for crispy tortilla chips or in a bowl over brown rice topped with melted cheddar and jack cheeses, the Life Chili Deluxe. At Life Café, we used Life’s Veggie Chili as an ingredient in many of our classic dishes, including quesadillas and in the early days, stuffed potato skins topped with melted cheese. Yumm.

What Life Café Veggie Chili-enhanced dish can you astonish your friends with??

Note: you can get even more creative. Just make the chili paste and use it for other chile-based recipes, like enchilada sauce, or a sauce for Chicken with Red Chile Sauce and Sausage (Pollo con Salsa Rojo y Chorizo). I can’t wait to try it myself, only I’m going to use turkey chorizo.

Some of the Good Old Staff in the Good Old East Village Life Cafe

 

 

 

 

LIFE’S FAMOUS VEGGIE CHILI

Make about 5 quarts

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup Spanish onion, diced

4 cloves chopped fresh garlic, minced

1 medium green pepper, chopped

1 medium red pepper, chopped

3 cups chile paste (recipe below)

1 cup carrots, diced

1 cup celery, sliced

1-14 oz can black beans

1-14 oz can cooked pinto beans

1-14 oz can cooked kidney beans

1-14 oz can cooked lima beans

1-14 oz can cooked chickpeas

1-14 oz can cooked lentils

1 cup frozen corn

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano (Mexican if you can find it)

1/2 zucchini, diced

1/2 yellow squash, diced

1 cup textured vegetable protein (TVP)

2 cups vegetable stock or water

Sauté the onions, garlic, peppers, carrots and celery in oil for 5 minutes until the onions turn translucent. Add chile paste and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans. Bring to a boil. After 10 minutes add the corn, cumin and oregano. Bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Add zucchini, squash, TVP and vegetable stock. Cook for another 30-35 minutes on low heat. As the TVP absorbs the liquid it will soften and expand.

 

CHILE PASTE

2 garlic cloves

1 medium Spanish onion

5 whole dried Guajillo chiles

2 whole dried Pasilla chiles

1 whole dried Ancho chiles

2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon white vinegar

2 teaspoon dried oregano, Mexican if you can find it

2-1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

 

Boil all ingredients for 3 minutes or until the chiles are soft in 3 cups water. Cool and blend in small portions in a blender until smooth.

Makes about 3 cups


CHASING CHILIES IN LOCAVORE MARKETS, ORGASMIC TOMATOES AND FALLING IN LOVE WITH ROMESCO SAUCE

Life Café NYC on Tour

Turning Chili Under the Sun in Mazarron, Spain, October 2012

The rays of the midday sun still burned hot on my skin, but the usual breeze across the campo felt much colder. Autumn is in the air and on this particular day I got a hankering for the warming taste sensation of Life’s Veggie Chili.

Cool breeze, hot sun. It’s autumn on the Campo

Life’s Veggie Chili was the first hot menu item I served at Life Cafe in 1982 on the corner of 10th Street and Avenue B in the East Village neighborhood of New York City. Chili was cheap to make, warming and healthy. The local bohemians got a cup for 50 cents. And if they had an extra buck, they got it served over short grain brown rice and topped with grated cheddar cheese. The dish was a full protein meal for vegetarians like me and David Life, my husband at the time. I made sure I got the most nutritional buck out of my food staples.

Now in southeast Spain, I examined the list of ingredients for the Chili Paste in the Life Cafe recipe, a vibrant blend of dried chilies and spices. Garlic, Spanish onions, salt, vinegar, oregano, dried thyme – check, check and double check; I had them all. Nada on the whole dried guajillo, puila and ancho peppers. I no longer had the Mexican delis on Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn to raid. Instead I travelled to the nearby towns of Totana and Mazarron during market days with John’s sister Ann and Terry his brother-in-law, local residents. Thank heaven for them and their car. And they knew the roads.

Ann and Kathy Life at Market

Big healthy radishes

John checks out the dried fish at Totana Market, Murcia

Lady locals gossip in front of the olive vendor’s stall

The Moroccan Vegetable Vendor

There is a lot of this fresh and exotic squash

Just picked tangerines, Totana Market

I found the Nora chili, round, fat, glossy dark red. From the Internet I found it’s not hot at all, rather it has a mild, sweet flavor that gives a deep red color to dishes. It’s grown right here in the Murcia region. Now that’s real locavore!

Nora chili on far left

Discovering the Nora chili lead me to Romesco sauce, a classic Catalan condiment originating from Tarragona in Northeastern Spain. Made with roasted tomatoes, nuts, olive oil, vinegar and toasted bread, it’s an accompaniment to all types of dishes, like fire roasted or grilled seafood and vegetables. It also works as a sandwich spread on fresh baguette. I thought how  great it would be on Life’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich in place of chipotle mayonnaise.

calçots

During Springtime in Catalonia entire towns gather in the public square for a calçotada, an annual flame-licked ritual of grilling calçots (a large spring onion) over an open fire. The sweet alliums are served blackened from the ashes of vine-fed flames. Revelers slide off the charred outside layers and dip the silken centers into Romesco sauce. The Spanish appreciate the life in their food. Take tomatoes for example; slice open a fresh tomato here and the aroma can be orgasmic. So it’s not surprising that tomatoes can drive Spaniards a little crazy. Have a look at this link — it’s enough to put you off your ketchup, or spread it on all over! La Tomatina Festival 2012 

Wiping off the tomatoes and putting them back safely into the fridge, I refocused on the Romesco sauce. I just had to make some. The bit of work was worth it. The end product is thick like pesto with the color of rust. The nuts lend it texture and the bread gives body. John couldn’t stop raving about it, saying it was Moorish; spicy and original, a new taste. Try this recipe. It’s one of many variations, and all are good.

Tune in to the next blog to find out what happened to the Spanish version of Life’s Famous Veggie Chili!


THINKING OF OUR FRIENDS

LIFE CAFÉ NYC ON TOUR

November 6, 2012

U.S. Presidential Election Day

There have been showers off and on all day today here in “sunny” Spain and the temperature has dropped 10 degrees from the balmy 76 Fahrenheit it was a few days ago. I’m told it does that this time of year. The semi-desert landscape that surrounds us is turning deep green. This is good. The rains, carefully managed in reservoirs and irrigated in this area, cause a bounty of produce to flourish in the mineral-rich campo soil in this, Europe’s garden.

On the campo, in an almond grove

Little did I know, as my husband and I sailed on calm waters away from New York City on August 28th bound, eventually, for Spain, that after a few shorts weeks a ferocious lady called Sandy would pay the City a fearsome call.

I remember how frightening the warnings about Hurricane Irene were only a year ago. I recalled that in the film “An Inconvenient Truth” there was a warning that the Lower East Side would someday be under water, a reminder that the East Village is only a few feet above sea level. After seeing the film, a friend quickly sold her house on 11th Street near Avenue C and moved her entire family safely into a new house in  Midwood on the far northwest end of Manhattan.

I was so alarmed at the potential damage of Irene in 2011 that I moved equipment from the basement of Life Café upstairs to the dining room. Being on the corner of 10th Street and Avenue B, I expected flooding up to the basement ceiling. At home we plastered big ‘X’s” on our south-facing windows with duct tape. Instead, we were spared.

This time, watching on the Internet and TV from Spain, we were awe struck and horrified at what was happening with a strange mixture of fascination and a sense of guilt that we weren’t sharing the worst of times and keeping Life Café open. But it was a relief not to be in the East Village where the sea came up out of the East River and finally overcame the streets and filled the basements of the Lower East Side.

The night Sandy began to batter the mid-Atlantic region, I took a break from watching the awful news unfold on TV and walked outside onto our porch. A blazing full moon glared down as I looked up into the still clear night and realized it was the same moon that was causing the horrific storm surge to rage into the Northeast coast. Mother Nature has no conscience…

We hear another storm is threatening to assault the East coast very soon, a cold one. We hope you will all fare through it safely.

And we hope all America fares safely through the election and the results as well. Take care, our friends. Our thoughts are with you.