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Zox Kitchen: July 10, 2014

Vegetarian Lasagna, Mexican Style

I learned my Mexican history from TV, i must admit, from the stories many of us watched like Zorro, which have been re-written as movies in the last few years. I took a particular shine to Zorro in part because of my own name being similar or at least it seemed like it to a 5-year-old.

But all kidding aside, it is valuable to know that much that we call Mexican cuisine in this country is Spanish and is not authentically Mexican. However, this is changing since neither the Spanish nor the French were able to impose their cuisine on Mexicans, which was in fact vegetarian in large measure before Cortez arrived. The Spanish brought beasts of burden to farm and to raise for consumption. Cows, pigs, goats, sheep and chickens were all brought to the new world and in many respects imposed on Mexicans. But many indigenous people held on to their own cuisine within the regions where they lived. It came to be called Meso-American cooking with European, especially Spanish, influences.

Basic Mexican cooking has become more popular of late, and some of it can even be labeled haute cuisine today as we rediscover Mexican history through holidays like Cinco de Mayo and the foods Mexicans and other Latin people continue to introduce to us. Foods like corn, beans and chile peppers have brought us culinary specialties many people love. Corn souffle or red beans and rice come to mind. The region of Qaxaca in south central Mexico specializes in molés, the unique sauces that often include Mexican chocolate and nuts. The regions of Veracruz, Yucatan, and Chiapas bring us seafood recipes that make our mouths water.

Rick Bayless, the Chicago chef who runs two different Mexican restaurants in Chicago and a new one to open in Los Angeles, called The Red O, contributes to this new Mexican food. He has opened our eyes and our tastes to authentic Mexican cuisine such as pork tinga with potatoes, avocado, and fresh cheese and spicy grilled chicken with creamy pumpkin molé sauce published in Bon Appétit.

And this movement towards recognizing and appreciating Mexican cuisine in no small measure is influenced by the growth of the Mexican population in the United States. For example, it was startling to learn when I visited my hometown of Des Moines Iowa this past summer, that the population of the city has grown to more than 200,000 with 30,000 of that number being Mexican-Americans. Nationwide, Mexicans now consist of 17 percent or 53 million of the nation’s population and is expected to grow to more than 30 percent by 2060. Is there any question that Latins in general are having a more important impact on our everyday lives, politics and culinary tastes and preferences? Salsa is fast approaching the most popular condiment next to ketchup. And as I have illustrated below, comida Mexicana or Mexican food, can be healthy for us as well.

Mexican Style Lasagna

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

• 2 lbs. large corn tortillas, cut into 3-inch strips

• Béchamel sauce, 3 cups

• 3 cups Monterey Jack cheese, 2 1/2 cups

• Tomato sauce, with fresh basil, 2 cups

• 1 bunch red chard, ribs removed and leaves cut into thirds

• 6 large carrots cut vertically into slices

• 2 poblanos, roasted, peeled, deveined removing stem, and thinly sliced and diced. Poblanos are not that spicy (only 4 on a scale of 1-10) but only add one diced chile if you prefer muting the spiciness.

• 1/2 cup bread crumbs, toasted

• 4-5 ounces of unsalted butter

• 6 tablespoons unbleached flour

• 2 cups regular milk

• 1 teaspoon cumin

• 1 teaspoon nutmeg

• 1 tablespoon diced onion

• 1 teaspoon crushed cloves

• Sea salt and ground black pepper

Directions

1. Béchamel consists of butter, milk and flour. It’s one of the classic French mother sauces. It is usually seasoned with onions or shallots, nutmeg, cloves and a pinch of salt.

2. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don’t let it brown — about 2 minutes. Add the hot milk, a bit at a time, continuing to stir or whisk as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a boil. Add nutmeg and cloves, cumin, salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat. To cool this sauce for later use, cover it with wax paper or pour a small amount of milk over it to prevent a skin from forming.

3. Make the tomato sauce by combining a 15-ounce can of tomato puree with 1/2 cup chopped basil and 2 teaspoons of sea salt. Mix at medium heat for 20 minutes while simmering. Taste and set aside off the burner.

 4. Roast the poblanos at 425F on both sides for 30-40 minutes until the chilies begin to lightly blacken in color. Remove from oven and place a towel over them to steam for about 10 minutes. Then peel under the water faucet removing stems, seeds, and veins. Slice the chilies into 1/2-inch strips and then medium dice.

5. Toast the bread crumbs at 400 F for 1-2 minutes and set aside. Careful not to overcook. Or you can toast in a medium size skillet until light brown.

6. Peel and thinly cut the carrots vertically and steam or poach for 2-3 minutes.

7. Remove the chard ribs and cut the leaves into thirds. Rinse well and leaving the leaves moist, place in a medium skillet. Cover the leaves and heat at high temperature for 2-3 minutes until wilted. Remove and set aside.

8. Cut the large corn tortillas into 3 inch wide slices

9. Begin to assemble the lasagna by layering the ingredients. Pour the béchamel, the cheese and the tomato sauce, which has cooled off, into one mixing bowl and gently mix for a minute. Pour one cup of sauce on the bottom. Next add the tortillas strips. Follow by adding about 1/3 cup of chard next, followed by 1/3 cup of carrots, followed by 1/3 of the diced poblanos.

Repeat the layers two more times if there is room — otherwise, only make 2 layers. Add sauce; noodles; chard leaves; carrots; and poblanos, finishing on top with all the bread crumbs.

10. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 1 hour at 375 F. Remove foil and bake 10 minutes more at 400 F. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Please send comments, questions or observations of interest to Chef Alan at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it For details about past columns, catering or Chef Zox’s blog, please visit www.zoxkitchen.com

News

“Visitation is up 300 percent,” said Harriet Gerard Clark, Raynham Hall Museum director.

“Two-thirds of them come because of reading the book by Brian Kilmeade, George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved The American Revolution, and seeing the series ‘Turn’ on A&E,” added Tom Valentine, docent, who keeps the list of visitors. Soon the series will include the story of Robert Townsend of Oyster Bay who was known as Culper, Jr. when he was a spy for George Washington.

Alex Sutherland, director of education, nailed his definition. “He was the most important spy for George Washington because he had the perfect cover. He was pretending to be a Loyalist and writing for a Loyalist newspaper and befriending British officers at his coffee shop in downtown New York while secretly collecting information.

As a fitness coach and a mother, Melissa Monteforte of Locust Valley knows how important it is to stay healthy, and how difficult it can be for women to make themselves, and their health, a priority. Wanting to help women take charge and feel more in control, she organized the Fit & Healthy Mamas Annual 5K run, now in its third year, which will take place on Saturday, Sept. 13 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow.

“I felt like running was the best outlet when I became a mother; it’s such a great way to get fit and feel healthy and I wanted to share that with other moms,” says Monteforte, 31. “I wanted women to feel celebrated, no matter their fitness level, and to put their health first.”


Sports

Hard work paid off for local athletes Christine Grippo of Locust Valley, Kelly Pickard of Oyster Bay, Bernadette Winnubst of Locust Valley, Steven Quigley of Bayville, Catherine Soler of Oyster Bay, Maria Elinger of Oyster Bay, and Armand D’Amato of Oyster Bay Cove, each of whom won awards in a field of some of the best triathletes from all of Long Island and beyond in the 27th annual Runner’s Edge - Town of Oyster Bay Triathlon, held in and around Oyster Bay’s Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park on Saturday morning, Aug. 23.

Grippo earned top honors in the women’s 30-34 age group with a time of 1 hour, 17 minutes, 36 seconds. Pickard (1:17:39) scored first among the women in the 35-39 age group. Winnubst scored in 1:38:48 to earn third place honors in the Masters Athena Weight Division. Quigley earned the second place award in the Masters Clydesdale Weight Division in 1:23:23. Soler (1:29:12) scored 5th among the women in the 20-24 age group. Ehlinger (1:39:23) was the 4th place award winner in the women’s 55-59 age group. D’Amato (1:42:44) earned top honors in the 70-74 age group.

Ice Dreams, an Olympic Ice Show starring 2014 Olympic Bronze Medalist Jason Brown and aspiring local skaters, is coming to Twin Rinks Ice Center at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow on Sept. 20.

Isabella Skvarla, 13, Julia Tauter, 12, and Chiara Vlacich, 12, all of Oyster Bay, Julia Forte, 12, of Locust Valley and Riley Stein, 11, of Bayville will be skating in the world class show to celebrate the opening of the best figure skating facility Long Island has ever seen.


Calendar

Art In A Meadow

Saturday, Sept. 13

Bayville Oktoberfest

Saturday, Sept. 13 - Sunday, Sept. 14

Hurricane Preparedness

Tuesday, Sept. 16



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