Smitten Kitchen’s Spaghetti Squash Tacos with Black Beans and Queso Fresco

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I’ve had my Smitten Kitchen cookbook for almost three years now, and these tacos have been on my to-make list since the day I got it. Smitten Kitchen is one of my very favorite blogs, as I’ve probably mentioned at least a few (hundred) times already.  We had been anticipating her book for months before it finally came out in October of 2012, and I was certain I would cook my way through it immediately. But I guess life (and keeping up with her blog recipes) got in the way, as I just did a quick tally and realized that out of well over 100 recipes, prior to this one I had only made eight. Eight! In three years!

They’ve all been delicious – corn risotto-stuffed poblano peppers, white bean and swiss chard pot pies, the pumpkin gingersnap cheesecake tart, perfect pie crust, cherry-almond galette, peach dumplings with bourbon hard sauce, apple cake, and blueberry cornmeal coffee cake – but eight seems like way too few considering there are about 10 times that on my to-make list. (And please note that six of the eight have been from the “sweets” section of the book – busted!). Along with her peach and sour cream pancakes (yum) and butternut squash and caramelized onion galette (double yum), these tacos were on the top of my to-make list, so when my cousin brought me three gorgeous spaghetti squash (squashes?) from her garden last week I knew exactly what to do with them.

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I love squash in mexican food – the Cactus Butternut Squash Enchiladas are my all time fave – so of course this recipe was calling my name. I also love the combination of black beans and squash (like in this soup or this casserole) – I don’t know exactly what it is about this particular combo, but somehow it’s one of those instances where the whole is better than the sum of it’s parts. And that is definitely the case with these tacos, as I find spaghetti squash on it’s own a little blah.

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Additional reasons I’ll be making this a lot this fall: it’s pretty healthy, and couldn’t be easier. It takes 40 minutes to roast the squash (although you could do it in less than half that time in the microwave), but aside from that it takes about ten minutes to throw everything together, so it’s the perfect weeknight meal. While the squash is cooking, whisk your lime juice together with the seasonings, open a can of beans (I warmed mine on the stove because I don’t love the idea of eating things straight out of a can, but you don’t have to so long as you drain and rinse them well), dice up a little onion, chop some cilantro, and crumble a bit of queso fresco or cojita cheese. Deb uses queso fresco (not only in her tacos but in the title of the recipe) but says you could also use cojita or feta – I used cojita because it’s my favorite, but the other two would be great as well (and less expensive!). Once your squash has finished cooking and has cooled slightly, use a fork to scrape it out of the skin into long, stringy spaghetti-like strands, toss it with the lime juice mixture, and you have a delicious and healthy meal ready to go. The tacos look gorgeous once assembled, and if you have leftovers (which you likely won’t; I did only because I doubled the recipe and was serving a small group), they’ll keep for a few days. I stirred any leftover beans and toppings into the remaining seasoned squash and will have yummy lunches for the next few days – leaving me more time to get to work on my SK Cookbook to-make list. I’m thinking pancakes for dinner tomorrow!

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One year ago: Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
Two years ago: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies & Pumpkin Pecan Granola
Squash, previously: baked pasta, soup, salad (all butternut ~ good thing we’re finally mixing it up!)

Spaghetti Squash and Black Bean Tacos, from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Yield: 16 tacos; serves 4 generously or 8 modestly

3 lbs (1 large or 2 small) spaghetti squash
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 1 lime)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
16 6-inch corn tortillas
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained well
4 ounces crumbled queso fresco, feta, or cojita cheese
1/4 cup finely diced red or white onion
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
Lime wedges and/or hot sauce for finishing, optional

Cook the squash, either in the oven or microwave. [To cook it in the oven, cut squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds (I forgot to do this and had to scrape them out once cooked) and roast cut side down in an oiled baking dish at 375 degrees F for about 40 minutes. To cook it in the microwave, pierce the squash all over with a sharp knife (cuts about an inch deep) to prevent it from bursting. Cook at high power for 6-7 minutes, then turn over and cook for another 8-10 minutes, or until it feels a little soft when pressed. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before cutting it open.] Once the squash has cooled slightly, scrape the flesh out with a fork, loosening and separating the strands of squash as you remove it from the skin.  Discard skin. [Side note: if you roast the squash, and remove the seeds before roasting, you can then roast the seeds as you would pumpkin seeds. Just rinse them and spread onto an oiled baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, or salt and chili powder. Roast at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes, stirring them about halfway through.]

In a small dish, whisk the lime juice with the chili powder, cumin, coriander, and salt. Pour over the squash strands and gently toss it all together. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

To assemble the tacos, heat a dry skillet over medium-high heat and warm/slightly blister each tortilla, about 30 seconds per side (I sometimes run mine under the broiler, which always seems more efficient as you can do 6 or so at once – but occasionally I do burn them so perhaps Deb’s way is better). Fill each tortilla with two tablespoons squash mixture, two tablespoons black beans, two teaspoons crumbled cheese, and a couple pinches of onion and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and hot sauce (if hot sauce is your thing – it’s not mine).

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Pasta and Co. Black Bean and Couscous Salad

Some weeks it can be really hard to come up with a recipe to blog about, especially in the summer when so much of what we eat is just grilled meat and veggies. For the most part I’ve been blogging about new recipes, but this is something I’ve been making since college (and possibly even before college) – an oldie but a goodie, if you will. Sometimes I forget how much I love it, but then it shows up at a family barbecue (in this case, little Oliver’s birthday a couple weeks ago) and I’m reminded that it really is my favorite summer dish. And then I make it for another event (in this case, for my soon-to-be-sister-in-law’s bachelorette weekend in Leavenworth this past weekend), and everyone gets so excited about it that I realize it’s not just my favorite, it’s kind of a universal favorite.

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Growing up, my aunts Barb and Nina made this salad for almost every family function. I was a picky child who didn’t like beans or onions (amongst a wide variety of other things), yet somehow I set those issues aside to gobble up what we all called “m&m salad” (due to the diced colored peppers that look like m&ms). For a long time I thought we had invented that clever name, but it turns out that’s what Pasta and Co. (where we first found the salad, and then the recipe) calls it.  The cookbook that it comes from is sadly out of print, but luckily I had the foresight to steal my mom’s copy, so I can share it with you all today.

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Although the actual recipe has you start with dried beans, I just dump in a (rinsed and drained) can as a time saver – although someday I’ll try it the proper way. Since couscous is the easiest thing in the world to make, ever, the only time committment this salad requires is the time to chop up the peppers, along with a few scallions and a handful of parsley. Whisk up the dressing and you’re all set.

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Since I was making this for a group of people I didn’t know, I followed the actual recipe – but in the past I’ve made it with quinoa instead of couscous and found it to be equally delicious.

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I was in charge of Saturday’s lunch for the bachelorette party, so on Friday morning I packaged up my couscous, threw in some fun treats for a cheese and charcuterie platter, and I was all ready for a picnic – just call me Ina Garten! You don’t even need a cooler if you’re packing it up for a long car ride, as it’s supposed to be served room temperature (just ask my aunt, who once packed a giant tupperware in her suitcase and checked it through to Hawaii – true story.  We all thought she was nuts until we were enjoying couscous all week).

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For the beans:
1 can black beans (see note, below)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sherry wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground or cracked pepper
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, peeled and put through a press

For the couscous:
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp sherry wine vinegar
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 clove garlic, peeled and put through a press
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cups vegetable or defatted chicken stock
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups uncooked couscous (package will probably say “instant” or “quick cooking”)

For the veggies:
2/3 cup (about half of one small) red bell pepper, diced
2/3 cup (about half of one small) green bell pepper, diced
2/3 cup (about half of one small) yellow bell pepper, diced
3/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup sliced green onions (sliced 1/8″ thick on the diagonal)

To assemble:

1.  Prepare couscous according to package directions, or using stock and olive oil.

2. Drain and rinse beans, and toss with oil, vinegar, salt, cumin, pepper, Worcestershire, and garlic.

3. Whisk together all couscous dressing ingredients (oil, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper) and pour over couscous.

4. Add chopped veggies and beans to couscous.  Chill. It’s delicious right away, but always better the next day.

NOTE: the original recipe calls for you to soak your beans, which is a step I skip. When you prepare the salad using the full bean dressing  and the full couscous dressing, it can be pretty heavy (and delicious – if you want it to taste the way it tastes when you buy it at the store, do it this way). To lighten it up, however, I usually skip the bean dressing, since it’s almost identical to the couscous dressing – I just make sure to add a little Worcestershire to the couscous.  If it seems dry once everything is mixed together, you can always add a little extra oil and vinegar.  I sincerely hope that everyone tries this, and figures out how they like it best.

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