Before we moved to California, Brad and I talked about one day visiting Los Angeles and one day driving Highway One and one day going to wine country and one day living near an ocean. I filed these trips and experiences under Nice Things Other People Have the Time and Money to Do. Then we moved here. Now I’m dumbstruck that we can live our bucket list. (Like cutting out of work early in the middle of the week to drive to Napa for dinner and a Lone Bellow concert. Amazing!)
Moving here and living here still seems like something so big, so outside what we could have accomplished ourselves that all of it still seems like a gift. Some days I want to give the gift back. Mostly on Giants game days when very drunk, very vocal, and very smelly people fill the commuter train I take. But virtually every other day I realize that this job that brought us out here is a gift. This work project in LA that paid for a night in a hotel and our miles to go down is a gift. The best way I know how to say thank you to the God who brought us here is to show him how much I’m enjoying this great gift he’s given us.
Where does that lead us? Well, it leads us to the West Hollywood outpost of Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican restaurant. We’ve been to their San Francisco location and were really impressed with how they made a plate of all veggies, rice, beans, and nuts taste so full of flavor and have so many textures. In LA this summer, four women at the table next to us were slamming margaritas, but we contented ourselves with this plate of yum. It’s roasted butternut squash, chorizo mushrooms, escabeche (I learned that’s basically pickled carrots and peppers), served with rice and beans and topped with cashew “cheese,” cilantro pesto, and pico de gallo. For those of you who remember my hummus plate, you already know I like meals that are basically a giant tray of condiments and encourage a little messiness. This is that.
Brad requested I make it while we’re on this cleanse (no meat, no gluten, no dairy, no alcohol, no caffeine, no sugars). Yes, it’s about one hour of hands-on time and the ingredient list seems long. But none of it is hard and each part comes together quickly, so you don’t even think about how crazy it is that you’re making no less than seven things from scratch for one meal.
The observatory was stunning. A few of the doors were painted jade green; that against the creamy white was so beautiful.
Some locals told us we had to go to Griffith Park Observatory to see a city institution, catch a glimpse of the Hollywood sign and see the whole valley. I’m so glad we took their advice. The observatory was stunning.
makes 4-6 servings, depending on how you divide up the goods
Based off the entree on the menu at Gracias Madre.
for roasted squash:
one butternut squash
1-1/2 cups rice
4 cups water
for escabeche (barely adapted from here):
3/4 cup raw apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon honey OR one dropperful liquid stevia (I used stevia)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 carrots, thinly sliced or diced in a food processor (I recommend this. It took me forever to slice)
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, halved
for cashew cheese (adapted from here):
1 cup raw cashews soaked overnight or for at least one hour
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
a splash of raw apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
sea salt and pepper
for cilantro pesto:
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 clove garlic
juice from one lemon
about 3 tablespoons olive oil
for pico de gallo:
four large fresh tomatoes
1/2 red onion
1 clove garlic
a handful of cilantro
juice from one lime
splash of raw apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
1/2 jalapeno (optional)
for black beans:
2 cans (or 4 cups) cooked black beans
for mushroom chorizo (adapted from here):
8 oz. mushrooms, diced
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
corn tortillas (optional)
PLAN OF ATTACK: Start with the squash. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, then place the halves cut side down in one inch of water in a glass 9″x13″ pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until soft.
While the squash is baking, cook the rice. Add the rice, water, and salt to a pot and bring to a boil, uncovered. Let boil softly for 30 minutes. Drain the rice and put it back in the pot and let it sit, covered, with no heat for 10 minutes to steam.
While the rice is boiling, tackle the escabeche. Place the vinegar, salt, stevia or honey, oregano, and 1/4 cup water in a saucepan and bring to boil. Add remaining ingredients and cook for 3-4 minutes or until soft. (If you like your veggies a little more crisp, cook for only 2 minutes. We needed softer for Brad’s jaw). I strongly suggest using a food processor for the carrots, by the way. I labored way too long with my crappy knife and crappy knife skills to produce the toothpicks you see in the photo above. Not really worth it. ANYWAY. Once the veggies are cooked to your liking, pour the whole mixture into a bowl and let cool. If you make this a few days ahead, keep it in the refrigerator to ripen.
Next, the cashew cheese, which couldn’t be easier: Put everything in a Vitamix or food processor and blend until smooth.
Whiz together the cilantro pesto by putting everything in a Vitamix or food processor and blending until the herbs and garlic are finely chopped. (I didn’t clean out my vitamix between the cashews and the pesto, but you do you.)
At this point, my rice was done and steaming and I just left it covered. My squash was out of the oven and cooling until I could touch it without burning myself. So I forged ahead, well, actually Brad did, with pico. Add all ingredients except one tomato to a Vitamix or food processor and blend in bursts until relatively smooth. Dice the remaining tomato finely and stir in.
Heat the black beans (rinse them thoroughly if you’re using canned) by placing in a pan with a little salt. I left these slightly bland to contrast the other strong flavors on the plate. Remove to a bowl.
Make the chorizo mushrooms in the same pan: Cook the mushrooms over medium heat until they start to express water and are halfway cooked. Add the remaining ingredients and saute until cooked through.
Heat tortillas using method of your choice (I use a toaster oven).
ASSEMBLE: Put slices of peeled butternut squash on a plate. Surround with a spoonful each of rice and beans. Add the remaining toppings to your taste. Spoon into tortillas if you like. Though honestly, after taking the picture above, we forgot about the tortillas and just ate the whole thing with a fork and it was awesome.