And because I’m a Bear of Very Little Brain, it took me a while to figure out the very simple solution to this situation: leave the spice out of the main dish and put it in the sauce, salsa, or sides.
Here’s an easy example: start with the Modern Fiesta here at Bon Appetit
and make these easy modifications
Chili-Corn Custard Squares with out the Chili
2 tablespoons EVOO plus more for sauteing veggies
1 cup chopped onion
1 diced sweet pepper (red, orange, or yellow)
Butter or non-stick spray to prep pan
1/4 cup King Arthur whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 X 1/3 cup shredded cheese (Mexican blend, queso fresca, or something like that)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup canned creamed corn (one can makes two batches, so save the rest in Mason jar)
Heat just enough EVOO to coat a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add finely chopped onion and sweet pepper and sauté until soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool, because you’re going to add to the egg mixture, and you don’t want the veggies to pre-cook the batter.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan, or spray with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in small bowl. Whisk egg, 1/3 cup cheese blend, 1/2 cup sour cream, creamed corn, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil in large bowl. Add flour mixture; stir to blend. Stir in onions and peppers. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup cheese blend over.
Bake until puffed and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool completely. DO AHEAD Custard squares can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
Topping: For the kids, they just get a splat of sour cream. For those wanting some spice, mix 1/2 cup of sour cream with a Tbs of diced chilis, or a dash of Tobasco Chipotle sauce, and a squirt of lime juice. The tiniest dash of cumin is also cool, and maybe a dash of Mexican oregano.
Cut into 1-inch squares. Place on platter. Top each square with dollop of sour cream, then small spoonful of salsa. Again, for Z, he got a no-spice tomato salsa, and we got a hotter mix on ours.
Rice with Summer Squash and Sweet Peppers
This wasn’t hot to start with , so we didn’t modify it much. Just added some mild chorizo from the Boulder Sausage Company.
2 TBS EVOO
1 small onion, finely chopped
Optional: one link of chorizo, casing removed and crumbled
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow zucchini, cubed into 1/2 inch pieces
1 green zucchini, same
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice, with a dash of salt and pepper
3 cups chicken broth (low-sodium is best because then you can liberally sea-salt it)
3 tablespoons roasted pepitas
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
A squirt of lime juice
Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute about 2 minutes. Add bell pepper and saute another 2 minutes, and then add the summer squash, and cook 2 more minutes. Add the chorizo and cook, stirring frequently, until the sausage is browned.
Add the rice and cook for about a minute, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the broth, turn up the heat to high, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until rice is tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in pumpkin seeds, cilantro, and a squirt of lime juice.
The Z-Man isn’t crazy about spicy beans or even borracho, so instead of putting a lot of prep into this dish, we just cooked some crumbled chorizo in a stock pot, then added some onion and garlic and sauteed the mix for a few minutes. Then added a can of black beans and simmered the whole thing until dinner was ready. All of the spice then went into the salsa and sour cream topping (same as above, in the corn-chili custard square recipe).
This doesn’t sound very southwest, but Z. likes the citrusy flavor on the chicken, and it works just fine. Marinate chicken breasts for 1-6 hours in a four-to-one mixture of lemon juice and olive oil, with minced garlic and sea salt. Then grill the chicken per your grill and slice into thin slivers. Add some chopped tomatoes, grilled veggies, and a bit of the rice and sour cream mix from above.
For Z, he gets a quesadilla instead of a soft taco, because he can hold it better. Lots of cheese keeps it together, and a couple of minutes on the George Foreman and it’s ready to go.
If your family doesn’t have a spice problem, check out the originals here:
Bon Appetit’s Modern Fiesta