Category Archives: vegetables

An Ode to Las Piñatas and the Enchilada Diaries

September 19, 2017

Hola internet friends.  I was thinking that I need a new series for this blog.  I write a lot about Greek food, but what many of you may not know is that I love Mexican food too. I especially love enchiladas. A lot.  Almost too much…

There was this place that Jeff and I used to go to for Mexican food in Old Town called “Las Piñatas”.  In fact, we had been going there for over 20 years, even before we were dating…when we were “just friends”.  We went so often that when we sat down magically nachos and margaritas appeared.  We were so predictable that they knew exactly what we wanted.

It was a secret little hole in the wall Mexican restaurant on Wells Street, with velvet paintings on the wall of Mexican cowboys and hundreds of piñatas hanging from the ceiling.  It wasn’t anything fancy, but what they did, they did well.  No nonsense, tasty, comforting Mexican food.

Their nachos were individually made.  Each chip was carefully topped with it’s own little portion of refried beans, tomatoes, guacamole, cheese and crema.  Their margaritas were the perfect mix of tangy and sweet (ice, no salt for me).  But the thing they did the best were their enchiladas. Did I mention I love enchiladas?  A lot.  I was obsessed with their chicken molé enchiladas.  I never ordered anything else.  The molé was this spicy chocolate sauce bathing my chicken enchiladas.  If I could have ordered a bowl of the molé sauce and a spoon, I would of, but I had to be an adult.  Jeff always got the “mixtas” with steak.  Mixtas were a trio of enchiladas, each topped with tomatillo, rojo and mole sauces.

So maybe it’s time to compile a series of posts about some of the great things that Las Piñatas served and document my attempt to recreate them.  And why should I attempt this?  Because my favorite Mexican restaurant, Las Piñatas, closed down.  WAAAHHH!!!  Heartbroken doesn’t begin to describe how sad that made me.  There is a new fangled breakfast place in the space now and every time I drive by, I grumble under my breath…and then I cry out the window…POR QUÉÉÉÉÉ???

Anyway, today, I thought I would share my spin on their tomatillo verde sauce.  One third of their magical Mixtas Enchiladas.  More to come…

Tomatillo Verde Sauce


1 – 1.5 lbs of tomatillos (about 8-10 depending on size)

5 poblano peppers

1 jalapeno pepper

1 medium red onion

1 – 2 garlic cloves

olive oil for coating vegetables



Pre-heat oven to 400F.

Place your husked tomatillos, poblano peppers, jalapeño pepper and onion on a sheet tray and coat with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast until the tomatillos cook down and the poblanos blacken, about 40 minutes.

Remove vegetables from the oven and let cool.  Peel and seed the poblanos and jalapeño pepper.  Add them and the rest of your ingredients to a food processor.  Make sure you add the juice that the tomatillos leaked out while roasting as well.  Wazz up the whole lot (sorry I said wazz, you can just press pulse) until it’s the desired consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

You can eat the sauce with tortillas chips, with nachos or use it as the base for making your favorite enchilada recipe.  I will share my favorite enchilada recipe soon.


Kallie =)

…and Magdalena (my little tomatillo)

One of These Things Doesn’t Belong Here…

September 3, 2016

Zucchini Bread.

Fried Zucchini.

Stuffed Zucchini.

Zucchini Fritters.

muffin trio

I over did it guys.  I have too much zucchini in my life.  Between my mother and my overzealous eye at the farmers market in Logan Square.  I have WAY.  TOO.  MUCH.  ZUCCHINI.  Did you know the zucchini is technically a fruit?  Oh yeah, it is.

Speaking of Logan Square, if you have been reading this blog regularly, you know that I am a huge fan of Lula Cafe.  In fact, it’s the one thing I do EVERY WEEKEND.  I love this place.  They do vegetables Iike no one else.  They serve the best, most amazing coffee.  They have a cute outdoor patio.  Don’t believe me?  Look here, and here for proof.

grated zucchini


Lula also changes up their menu often.  Don’t you like how I just call it Lula?  Like we are old girlfriends?  Oh hey girl, what’s up?  Well, we are friends!  Lula rocks my life every Saturday and Sunday!  As I was saying, they change up their menu often. In fact, they have this sandwich called The Royale (capital T, capital R)  and it changes almost every month.  You guys, it was featured in the National Geographic!  The National Geographic!  Yes a magazine, that covers animal life, outer space and the planet earth at large, has noticed The Royale sandwich at Lula Cafe.  Look here.  The Royale is a tour de force.  And Lula Cafe is apparently the epicenter of food on planet earth.  I can’t anymore…

ingredients 3

Now this menu change-up usually is a good thing because it means we are eating the freshest and most tasty vegetables at the exact moment they are in season.  But the problem with an ever changing menu, is that sometimes my favorites go away…and don’t come back.  Whaaahhh!  Total FWP guys (first world problem.). Good-bye Nearly Summer Salad.  Good-bye Green Chorizo Sopas, I will miss you.  Maybe next year.  Lula?  Do you take requests?  Bring back my almost summer salad and green chorizo sopas!!!!  Please!!!  Pretty please?  Why you gotta always break my heart?

I don’t do well with change.

zucchini batter

Well, these days Lula Cafe has this zucchini muffin studded with bits of chocolate, cherries and walnut.  Zucchini?  What madness is this?  Zucchini doesn’t belong in a pastry!!!  (Cue the song “One of these things just doesn’t belong here” in your head.)  You guys this muffin is practically a health food.  And you have a fridge full of summertime zucchini don’t you?  I do.  And I know you do, because I can see you thinking about what you are going to do with all of them.  Here is another idea for your zucchini surplus.

But for now, this muffin:  Grated zucchini which is low calorie.  Chocolate and cherries which have antioxidants and walnuts which have all those omega-3s.  I think for your own sake you should try these muffins.  Now.  Stat.  Isn’t that what they say on Grey’s Anatomy?


muffin layers

Le sigh, Grey’s Anatomy.  It just isn’t the same without Dr. McDreamy.  Why Shonda?  Why?  Why did you do me like that?  First you take away Sloan and then Shepherd?  I better not start on this tangent.  It won’t end well.  Forget I said anything.  (September 22nd new season.  It better be good.)

I don’t do well with change.

Go ahead Lula, take this one off the menu too.  I don’t care.  I will just make my own….humph!

Here’s how to make a health muffin:

Gluten Free, Choco-Cherry-Nut Zucchini Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

1 3/4 all purpose flour or gluten free flour (I like this one)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup olive oil (I’m Greek, this is the only oil I have, another health food, this is getting better)

1 cup zucchini, grated  (Yeah, I know.  Who knew zucchini a make excellent muffins)

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup chocolate chips, semi-sweet

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

1/2 cups dried cherries

1 and a 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cinammon

1/2 teaspoon clove

1/2 teaspoon salt


1. Preheat oven to 350F, line your muffin tin with paper liners.

2.  Mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, clove, and salt in a bowl.

3.  In another bowl beat the egg, add olive oil, milk and vanilla.

4. Stir your wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and then add the grated zucchini, chocolate chips, dried cherries and walnuts.

5.  Scoop the batter into your muffin tins about 3/4 full, top with a cherry half or walnut if you are feeling ambitious.  Or don’t.  No pressure.

6. Bake in a 350 oven for 20 minutes and then eat quickly.  It’s for your health.




dirty dish


Behold the Sensitive Courgette!  (that’s a fancy word for zucchini)

August 7, 2016

Courgette, zucchini, summer squash, golden zucchini..same same.  So why all the name calling?  No matter what you call them, they are still squash, picked while young and have thin skins.  So don’t mock them, their feelings are easily hurt…Oh, the sensitive courgette.

You’re at the Farmers Market and you have been taken aback by the cute zucchini arrangement, the gold ones, the dark green ones, the light green ones,  the stripped ones.  So you buy them.  All of them. Maybe too many of them.  What do you do with them?

I have the answer. A one pan meal, perfect for summer!  Briami.  It’s what I call a Greek zucchini bake.  All along the Mediterranean, you find variations of this dish: Italy’s caponata, and Spain’s Pistou, and zee French ratatouille!  But I love the Greek briami the best!  No bias AT ALL!!  It might also be the easiest version to make however if that tempts you.

Observe in 3 steps:

First, slice up your zucchini.  All of them!

Next, add herbs, garlic, onions, olive oil and tomatoes.  Mix them up and pop them into a 400F oven.

Finally, let it bake, brown, meld their flavors together for a little over an hour and eat!  With feta!

It’s Mediterranean nirvana. Not the band with teenage angst, although they were thin-skinned and sensitive like zucchini too, but nirvana the Buddhist concept of “heaven”.  

Nevermind.  (See what I did there?  I made a Nirvana song reference?  Ok ignore me.)

Aaaaaaanywaaaaaay, It’s good. And good for you.  So try it! 🙂
So how do we make Courgette Nirvana?

Greek Briami

serves 4

2 medium zucchini

2 medium summer squash

2 medium potatoes

1 medium red onion

12 cherry tomatoes


Olive oil,

Salt pepper

1/2 cup crushed tomato

1/2 cup water 

1/4 cup olive oil 

Pre-heat your oven to 400F.  Slice the zucchini, squash, potatoes and cherry tomatoes place in a baking pan or dish. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, mint and olive oil and mix together in the same pan.  Add the water and bake for about 1-1.5 hours stirring half way to make sure thing brown evenly…and that’s it. Done! Presto! 
Enjoy with a piece of feta and assyrtiko wine.


Γεμιστά! Say what? Why say stuffed tomatoes when you can say “yemista”?

July 31, 2016

Yemista should be called “yummy-sta”…ok, forget I said that. Still friends?
It’s summer. It’s August. It’s hot. All the veggies at the farmers market are seducing you.  It’s high season for tomatoes and peppers. And that salad you keep making, BORING! So what do you do with all of your tomatoes and peppers? Stuff ’em, I say.
Stuffed tomatoes and peppers are pretty delicious and easy to make. It’s one of those throw ’em together and forget ’em dishes. It’s the classic summer-time meal taking advantage of your excess tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  Yes I know you over shopped at the farmers market.  I saw you!

When I was younger and before adulthood and responsibility set in (a-hem, and a full time job…waaah!) I spent the entire summer in Greece, relaxing on the beach, reading a book and watching the waves while sometimes contemplating if I wanted a cappuccino fredo or a frappé. Hey, coffee selection was a critical decision back then. I miss when life was that simple…but that’s another blog post.

Upon my return, the “welcome back to Chicago” meal my mom would make for me was yemista. She would make a whole pan full of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplant, stuffed with rice and ground beef, baked in the oven, filling the kitchen with the smells of summer.  The smell of Greece.  Yes Greece smells like a roasted, stuffed tomato.  Trust me.  Let’s ignore the fact that you are baking in the middle of summer okay? Turn on the AC. Thank me later.

Actually, this is one of the cute ironies of this dish. You have to make this dish in a hot oven in the middle of the hot summer. That’s when tomatoes and peppers are at their finest. If you try to make it in winter, fail! Sad boring unripe, un-flavorful veggies. Summer-time stuffed tomatoes = hipster irony. 

Anyway, this meal extended that summer vacation feeling just a little bit longer. A little. Kind of. Ok not really. All it did was make me instantly nostalgic for my favorite beach in Greece, the sun, the waves, the coffee, the music, the food, my tan. 
“But you were just there yesterday,” my mom would say. “How can you miss it already?” This from a woman that calls her brother in Greece to make sure he sent her shipment of olive oil for the year, and required me to bring her mizithra, mountain oregano, dried sage, chamomile, honey, and Greek Coffee. “Papagalos brand okay? The rest is not coffee.” Oh she doesn’t miss it at all. Sigh. So yes, this dish can do that for me.

And so, I bring to you this recipe to transport you to a small Greek village for a few hours. Just imagine sitting in the sunshine with some fresh ripe tomatoes stuffed with rice and ground beef, peppered with fresh mint and slathered in olive oil. Serve with a square of salty feta and a little retsina and you’re set.
So let’s be ironic and make this hot dish in the middle of the hot summer! Yaaas people! Here’s how…

Yemista: Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers
Serves 4, or 2 incredibly hungry people (this recipe has been scaled down from my mother’s version which is enough to feed a small town in Greece)

4 ripe medium to large tomatoes
1-2 green peppers (or eggplant, or zucchini, choice is yours)
2 potatoes cut into wedges
1 small red onion finely diced
1 clove garlic
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup of rice
1/2 cup crushed Marzano tomatoes
2-3 tablespoons finely cut fresh mint
Salt & pepper

How to make this rockin’ dish:
1. Begin by slicing the tops off your tomatoes and peppers and scooping out and hollowing out the core and seeds with a spoon. Salt the interiors a little bit and arrange in your baking dish. Like this:

 (As an extra flavor bonus squish the tomato cores between your fingers, strain and save the resulting tomatoe juice to top your dish with before placing in oven)

2. Sauté your red onions in a tablespoon of olive oil.  Add your clove of crushed garlic.  Finally adding the ground beef to brown.  Season with salt, pepper and your freshly cut mint.  Add 1/2 cup of crushed Marzano tomatoes and saute until cooked through.  Set aside.

3.  Peel and cut your potatoes into wedges, seasoning with salt and pepper and placing them around the tomatoes and peppers in the baking dish.

4. Go back to your sautéed ground beef that has been cooling and add 1/2 cup of rice and stir.  Begin filling your tomatoes and peppers about 1/2 way to 2/3 full.  Make sure the filling is placed loosely inside so that there is room for the rice to expand while baking.

5. Place the tops on your veggies, pour the tomato juice you set aside earlier over them also adding a 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the baking dish.  This will help the rice cook through. Drizzle olive oil over the veggies and potatoes to help brown.

6. Bake at 400F and forget about it…well, only for about 1.5 hours (try to check on them every 30 minutes to make sure things are moving along). it’s ready when the rice is cooked through and the veggies have browned.

Serve, eat and enjoy!

Farmer’s Markets, Hipsters and Rain, Never Ending Rain…

June 20, 2015

Farmer’s Markets, hipsters and rain.  Never.  Ending.  Rain.  These are a few of my favorite things…well, that’s what summertime in Chicago means these days.  What are we?  The new Seattle?  Maybe…after this post, you might just think so.

It’s been raining for almost 3 weeks non-stop.  It’s been raining so much I don’t have to water my balcony flowers.  Although every time it rains it does cause quite an “incident” on my balcony.

Muddy balcony.  Not good.  More on my city balcony oasis next week.

For most places, April showers bring May flowers.  But this usually does not happen in Chicago.  More like June showers. It’s finally starting to get hot, but as always in Chicago, the weather is unpredictable, it can be sunny and rainy at the same exact moment.  See that?  That’s some blue sky poking through the clouds while it’s raining.


So what’s great about this time of year?  Here are some other glimpses of summer-to-be  greatness.  The farmer’s market in the West Loop has opened up.  My neighborhood has it’s own farmer’s market.  Two in fact.  Soho House is also hosting a Farmer’s Market.  It just brings me such joy to buy farm fresh veggies.




I got all of this…okay not ALL of it, but i got a pint of strawberries and a bunch of rhubarb.  And a pint of baby yellow squash and bunch of asparagus, as well as head of broccoli and a dozen eggs.  I got the brown chicken eggs on the right…duck eggs were on the left.  maybe next time I will be brave enough to try the duck eggs.


Okay, so that tablecloth reminds me of the vinyl tablecloth my aunt in Greece would put on her outdoor table before we ate.  Why do older, ethnic women love floral in vinyl?  Is it the “easy to clean” factor?  My mom and my aunts are obsessed with getting me cotton lace floral table clothes too.   I mean I get it, it’s the “lost feminine arts”, but I am not a doily kind of girl. I don’t want to offend them.  What to do?


Here’s the glamour shot of my bounty from the farmer’s market that day.  No doily. No way!  I protest!  Don’t tell my mom and aunts, ok?

Anyway, the other thing I love doing in Chicago in the summertime, especially when it rains is going to eat breakfast at Lula Cafe in Logan Square.  I am secretly in love with that place.  And even though it’s crawling with hipsters, I am afraid that I might secretly have a hipster heart.   ‘Tis true.  I have to hand it to them.  They really have a knack for unique places with really amazing food.  Maybe we really are the new Seattle?


Oh, and did I mention Lula Cafe serves the best coffee in the world?  It’s Metric brand coffee.  AWESOME!  Forget your paper cup coffees with green mermaids on them.  Put it down.  Now.  No really.  I see you.  Put it down.  Metric is the best tasting coffee I ever had.

Okay, it’s official, rain, hipsters and coffee.  I declare Chicago the new Seattle.

Moving on…the other best tasting thing I ever had was this:


That’s the “Nearly Summer” salad at Lula Cafe.  What vegetable genius is this you ask?  Braised collard greens, fresh mixed greens, sugar snap peas, a soft boiled egg and sorrel cream sauce topped with picked rhubarb.  The soft boiled egg is hiding under that sugar snap pea.  I see you!  Who gets this excited about vegetables?  Me!  This was an amazing brunch item.  Go.  Run.  Eat.  And have the coffee.


That’s my husband.  He is embarrassed that I always have to photograph everything.  Some people keep a diary, I keep mine on Instagram.  What?  Have some coffee Jeff.  Did I mention it’s the best coffee ever?


So this happened.  A really large shelf cloud rolled into Chicago and rained hail onto us this week.  And then this happened.  A jumbo rainbow!  That’s Chicago.  At least there is always a reward at the end. =)


I love you Chicago.


Kallie =)