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Rebar: In Praise of Complexity

The Rebar cookbook is among our household’s favorites for two reasons. First, Rebar excels as a vegetarian cookbook. It used to be that vegetarian cooking consisted of mimicking meat dishes by substituting tofu and loads of spices. I am not a vegetarian and so I had no use for those recipes. At the same time, I don’t feel the need to eat meat at every meal. Rebar provides solid vegetarian recipes that won’t make me think, “This would taste better with ground beef.”

How they do this leads me to the second reason why we like them: complexity. Let me say a few words about this. My wife read somewhere that the opposite of simplicity is not complexity but clutter. Both simplicity and complexity are values. There is a time for a heel of good bread and a hunk of good cheese – really any time is a good time. I happen to like water. I have been known to fill up on peppers alone when they are ripe in the garden. Simplicity!

But the Rebar people seem to know that there are just too many wonderful things to eat in this world not to mix them together. And mix them together well. Practically every recipe calls for a dozen ingredients, one of those ingredients being a sauce with a page number next to it. Turn to that page and there are another six to ten ingredients.

I wouldn’t call Rebar gourmet. Instead it’s eclectic without being mish-mashy. Yes the recipes take more time, but the pay off is big. We’ve prepared several dishes by omitting or substituting ingredients when we didn’t have them (pepitas, flax seed, masa harina), and while the food tastes fine, it’s not the same. Rebar’s bizarre alchemy is worth the effort.

For instance, one of our all-time favorite dishes – the one we tend to make most for our guests – is the Three-Sisters Burritos. It calls for squash, beans, and corn – the three traditional “sister” crops grown by North American indigenous peoples. The preparation for this meal is an event, from making the enchilada sauce, to skinning, cubing, and roasting the butternut squash. By the end the kitchen is a disaster and we’re famished. In the midst of preparation I often wonder if all this work is at all like the ancient tradition of slaughtering the fattened calf for feasts. Never having done exactly that, but knowing something about calves, that is no small amount of work.

But of course we do these things because we want to show, with our food, that our guests are important. The fattened calf was a sacrifice, an offering: “Look, we killed our best animal for you!” Instead Rebar goes for the small-but-many approach: “Look, here’s a hundred great things! Eat them all!”

Print Recipe

Three-Sisters Burritos

One of our all-time favorite dishes – the one we tend to make most for our guests – is the Three-Sisters Burritos. It calls for squash, beans, and corn – the three traditional “sister” crops grown by North American indigenous peoples. The preparation for this meal is an event, from making the enchilada sauce, to skinning, cubing, and roasting the butternut squash. By the end the kitchen is a disaster and we’re famished. In the midst of preparation I often wonder if all this work is at all like the ancient tradition of slaughtering the fattened calf for feasts. Never having done exactly that, but knowing something about calves, that is no small amount of work.

Source: Rebar: Modern Food Cookbook

Course: Main Course

Cuisine: Mexican

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • BURRITOS
  • 3 pounds butternut squash
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon vegetable oil divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chile powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt divided
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 1/2 cups corn fresh or frozen
  • 1 14 oz can pinto beans drained and rinsed*
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro stemmed and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chipotle puree (follows)*
  • 3 1/2 cups grated white cheddar cheese*
  • 6-8 whole wheat tortillas
  • MESA RED SAUCE
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion diced
  • 6 garlic cloves minced
  • 4 tablespoons masa harina
  • 4 tablespoons ancho chile power
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced oregano
  • 4 cups vegetable stock or water, heated
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel and seed the squash, and chop into 3/4″ cubes. Toss with 1 tablespoon oil, ancho powder, 1 teaspoon salt, maple syrup and lime juice and spread out in a glass baking dish. Roast until tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer the roasted squash to a large bowl, and spread the corn in the same baking dish. Toss with 1 teaspoon oil and a pinch of salt and roast 10 minutes. Combine the squash and corn and cool (I did not wait for the cooling). Toss in the beans, cilantro and chipotle puree and season to taste.
  2. To roll the burritos, lay a tortilla out in front of you and spread about 1 cup of filling across the middle. Top with 1/3 cup of cheese and roll the tortilla around the filling to form a cylinder. Place seam-side down on a lightly oiled baking dish and repeat with remaining filling. Spoon sauce over the tortillas and sprinkle with remaining cheddar. Cover the pan with foil and bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees until heated through. Remove foil for a final 5 minutes to melt the cheese on top.
  3. *Notes: We used garbanzo beans because we had them and I forgot to soak the dry beans overnight. My grocery store doesn’t carry canned chipotle peppers, but I did find a small can of chipotle salsa. The straight peppers are better. They also don’t carry white cheddar, so we used yellow.
  4. CHIPOTLE PUREE
  5. Buy a little can of chipotles in adobo sauce.
  6. Blend in a blender or food processor and put it in a jar. Use the extra on eggs, ham hocks, any sandwich involving meat,
  7. MESA RED SAUCE
  8. I have nothing against canned enchilada sauce for this meal, but it’s worth trying this at least once. At 4 tablespoons, the ancho chile powder is the star.
  9. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until translucent. Add garlic and cook 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the masa harina and stir constantly as it cooks and turns golden.
  10. Add the spices and oregano and stir for another 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the warm vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and whisk in the tomato paste and sugar.
  11. Simmer partially covered for 30 minutes, stirring regularly. Season to taste.

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  • I love the Rebar cookbook and agree- the complexity is worth it! Once you have to unusual ingred's in your pantry, many meals are actually pretty simple. Our fav's are Green Rice, Yam Quesadillas, all the pasta dishes, pad thai, all the salad dressings...really, this is so worth the buy! AND we are from Victoria, home of this fabulous restaurant- so get to dine with them too! Reply
    Kali January 1, 2013 AT 10:50 am
     
 
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