Our Meatless Monday entry comes early this week, since it might require some serious shopping to make this dish. If you love green chile burros, it’s worth it!
Vegetarian and chile verde is like an oxymoron. How can you have a green chile burrito without pork? I didn’t think it was possible. Well, let me rephrase that. I had seen a lot of recipes floating around the internet and in cookbooks that added potatoes and beans and such in place of pork. To a girl who grew up on chile verde, none of the recipes proved inspirational to me.
Yet, having made a commitment to eat much less meat due to the inhumane treatment of animals on corporate farms and because of health benefits of eating a mostly plant-based diet, creating a delicious vegetarian chile was important to me. I had to do this. How, I didn’t know.
Then, a miracle happened. Okay, so I exaggerate, but only slightly. A friend of mine from India mentioned a fruit that is used to make curries with that shreds just like pork. My interest was piqued. Suddenly, I found myself scouring Los Angeles for this fruit that she spoke of, jackfruit. After checking online, I tried the Asian markets of West L.A. first, and when the workers looked at me with quizzical expressions ( you know, the ‘who is this crazy person?’ look,) I gave up. Then I had another idea, so I got back in my car and drove to India Sweets and Spices in Culver City. There it was, in cans on the shelf. I read the ingredients: jackfruit, water. Simple. Plus, it cost less than your average can of almost everything at the grocery store. Cha-ching!
All I did was take my classic green chile recipe and replace the pork with jackfruit. I cooked it slowly, for hours, just like the original meat version. The results: Better than I ever expected. Mixed with fiery Hatch chiles, tomatoes, onions, garlic and tomatillos, the flavor was bursting off the spoon.
What I loved about eating the jackfruit chile verde was that I didn’t get the “rocks in my stomach” heaviness that often occurs after eating a “carbolicious” meal. It was also so low calorie that I was able to wrap the chile verde, some “refried beans,” and avocado slices in a gluten-free tortilla, drown it in green enchilada sauce, and melt a good quality cheese on top, just like old times. Good ol’ fattening, muy pocho Sonoran style cooking, but at the end of the week, I lost weight. Is it possible? Am I dreaming? No, I’m wide awake.
Jack fruit: the fruit which poses as meat has rocked my world!
3 cans jack fruit
10 -15 Hatch or Anaheim chiles, medium to hot varieties or a mixture of both (The more chiles you use, the more heat the stew will have, so you can choose to use more if you are one of the some who like it hot!)
2 chiles de agua (or other hot chile such as jalapeño, optional and not necessary if using hot Hatch chiles)
5 cloves of garlic
1 sweet onion
2 – 3 Roma (plum) tomatoes
2 tbsp. Mexican oregano
2 tbsp. basil
1 tbsp. cumin
1 tbsp. fennel seed
a pinch of ground cloves or allspice
cilantro to taste (optional – I don’t use it)
salt and pepper to taste (add after the jack fruit has cooked tender)
1/3 cup or more cup organic blue cornmeal for thickening
1. Wrap cloves of garlic still in their skins in a piece of aluminum foil. Place the foil packet in a preheated 350 degree oven on the top rack.
2. Place the chiles you will be roasting (Hatch, Anaheim, chiles de agua, jalapeños) directly onto the top rack of your oven. Roast as many chiles as you can. In my opinion, you can never use too many in this stew. Place the tomatillos on a lined baking sheet on the bottom rack. Roast the chiles, garlic and tomatillos in the oven until the skin is pulling away from the chile, but not until they blacken and begin to shrivel. Watch carefully, as each batch of chile can differ in the time it takes to roast, and no two ovens are alike. It may take 15 minutes or longer to properly roast the chiles.
3. Fill a large kettle halfway with water. Place it on the stove over low heat. Open the cans of jack fruit and empty ingredients, including liquid, into the pot. Add the dry spices.
4. Remove the chiles, garlic and tomatillo from the oven. Place the chiles in a paper bag and close it. Let them cool. Peel the skins off of the tomatillos and drop them into the kettle whole. If you try to cut them, you will lose juice and seeds. Remove the roasted garlic from its skin by holding the cloves by their tips and squeezing the creamy garlic right into the pot. Use a bean masher to break up the garlic and tomatillo a bit. It doesn’t need to be pulverized as it will continue to combine while stewing.
5. Dice the tomatoes by cutting the top off, then cutting in a cross-hatch formation about an inch deep. Then cut across the side of the tomato all the way through about every quarter of an inch. This technique will render fairly uniform cubes. When you have cut down to the end of your cross-hatches, repeat the process until all of the tomato is cut.
6. Peel a sweet onion. Cut it into quarter, then cut the quarters in half. Drop the chunks into the pot. They will separate and shrink as they cook.
7. Get a large, shallow bowl. Open up the bag of chiles once they have cooled. Place all of the chiles into the bowl. One by one, peel the skin away from the chile. Remove the stems and seeds by gently pulling away from the body of the chile. Discard the skins, stems and seeds in the paper bag. Once all of the chiles are peeled, you may choose to rinse the chiles in a colander to remove clinging seeds, but to me, it isn’t really necessary. Dice the chiles by laying them across a cutting board and chopping through as many at a time as possible in both directions (length and width.) Please don’t liquefy them in the food processor or blender as the texture of the stew will suffer. Add the chiles to the kettle.
8. Your stew will gain body by simmering down, and it will need several hours to do so. However, you must be checking the stew frequently. Stir it occasionally, and adjust the heat downward if it is boiling too much. Cooking this stew slowly will give it the amazing flavor that will keep you coming back for more, even with no meat in the pot.
9. When the fruit is so tender that it shreds itself, the stew is done. Turn the flame off. Place the organic blue cornmeal in a measuring cup and have a whisk in your other hand. Drop the cornmeal into the pot gradually and whisk continually to mix it into the chile. Your chile verde will continue to thicken as it cools, so don’t be fooled into thinking it is too watery and dumping more and more cornmeal into it. Start with a quarter cup. Then add another quarter cup and wait for it to thicken. It is better to err on the side of too watery rather than too thick. After about 15 minutes, stir the stew to determine if you need to add more cornmeal. If so, whisk it in as you did the first time.
10: Place a large spoonful of “refried beans,” about 1/4 cup in a medium tortilla. Add two large serving spoons of the green chile stew, and arrange slices of fresh avocado on top. Roll the tortilla into a burrito. Enjoy as is, or if you want it wet, cover the rolled tortilla with green enchilada sauce and your favorite cheese, grated. Enjoy this vegetarian delight!
Note: Purchased canned jack fruit at an Indian, Thai or other Asian markets (except Japanese.) The cost of one can might be around $1.99 to slightly above $2.00.
Jack fruit has large seeds that will soften and loosen during cooking. Don’t discard them. When completely cooked, the seeds taste wonderful and have a more solid texture than the rest of the fruit which will shred like pulled pork.
Organic blue corn is gluten-free and definitely non-GMO. If you have corn sensitivities, you could thicken the recipe with a gluten-free flour mix.
Gluten-free tortillas are available in many varieties at Whole Foods, Sprouts, the Co-op in Santa Monica and some Ralphs stores that cater to customers who demand to eat healthier. Check your local markets, and if you can’t find them, ask the manager to stock them. Pictured on the featured image is a Rudi’s Gluten-Free Spinach Tortilla, and it tastes awesome!