A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Elli Quark and was asked if I wanted to participate in a little cooking challenge the company was setting up. I was not given many details other than I would be receiving a box of ingredients to work with, contestants would need to create a unique dish using those ingredients, there would be a deadline to submit, and then we would be judged by a panel consisting of a food photographer and a food stylist. It doesn’t take much to get me in the kitchen, so I happily accepted the offer and was eager to get started!
A few days later, my mystery box arrived…
I had no idea what to expect, what type of ingredients I would be working with, if there was a certain flavor profile, proposed theme, nothing. So when I opened up my box, I immediately felt like I was on Chopped! I literally felt like a contestant on the show (yes, I am a dork and yes aside from Real Housewives, I watch Chopped religiously). I took each item carefully out and laid them in front of me. I was so excited because the ingredients were absolutely stunning and so fresh. It looked like I had just brought back a haul from my local farmers market. Take a look at the goods!
Enoki mushrooms… uh, scary! Not only do I not really eat mushrooms, I had NEVER even seen this variety before! Yikes!
So pretty and delicate though…
And of course, the highlight of my mystery box… “Lemon” Elli Quark! If you aren’t familiar with quark, its very similar to a Greek yogurt BUT creamier, less tart, and MORE protein. In addition to the staples like strawberry, blueberry, and peach, Elli Quark has other unique flavors including Red Velvet, Sea Salt Caramel, Mint Chocolate, and Bananas Foster. Can’t ever go wrong with the basics though and lemon is something I adore!
Once I had a minute to take everything in and gather my thoughts (actually it was at least a good 45 minutes… clearly I could never be on Chopped because by the time I settled on an idea, I would be chopped for not making anything), t to spice things here were only a couple of things I was sure of. #1 I would be using the quark to marinade some chicken. I do the same thing with a Greek wrap dish I have been making for years and my family LOVES it. The chicken comes out so flavorful, moist, and delicious! #2 I would be making a sauce of some kind because one can never have enough homemade sauces in their life to spruce dishes up. And #3 I would be going with an Asian inspired flavor profile because thats what I immediately thought of when I saw the tamarind and enoki mushrooms. Outside of those things, I had no clue what I was going to do. I figured I should just get going and see where I ended up. I took a deep breath, grabbed my chopping board, a knife, and crossed my fingers that I didn’t mess up my ingredients!
First things first, get my marinade together! Easy and painless because its similar to my Greek wrap marinade. Lemon Elli Quark, zest and juice of lemon and lime, garlic, pepper, salt, garlic powder.
Grabbed my chicken breasts and cut them into small pieces. Normally when I do my Greek wraps, I leave the breasts whole and it works out just fine, but for these I really wanted to see if there would be a difference cutting them down a bit more. Into the marinade they go to hang out for a few hours while I tackled everything else! I wrapped the bowl with saran wrap and put them in the fridge.
Next, it was onto the sauce.
Being 1/2 Filipino, I actually grew up eating tamarind so I was very familiar with the taste. As a kid, we always had these tamarind candies in the house that I LOVED. It was one of the few “candies” that I actually enjoyed which I find extremely odd because what 8 year old would choose a strange brown tamarind candy over a Starburst? That would be me. Yeah, I know, weird. But they actually remind me of a Sour Patch Kid… kinda sweet, kinda tangy and tart. Sounds like a good saucey kinda ingredient to me!
The tamarind that came in my mystery box were SO fresh. I already knew they had large seeds in them and I would need to get the “meat” off before I did anything else with them. I enlisted my daughter to help with some of my prep work and I had her take off as much of the flesh off of the seed as she could.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a ton of meat off using this method (or at least I felt like there was a lot going to waste) so I ended up throwing what we had left into the pot with the other sauce ingredients. This worked out MUCH better! The flesh eventually melted away and I was able to dig the seeds out once the sauce cooled down.
I really loved the “sauce” that was left in my saucepan, but felt like I could kick things up a bit more. Also, I still had ingredients in my box that I had NO idea what I was going to do with yet. My first instinct was to use the pistachios as a type of crust for the chicken, but the more I thought about it, I really didn’t want anything to take away from that beautiful, tart, lemony flavor I had going on with my marinade. Luckily, by the time my sauce had cooled and I was ready to tackle the next ingredient, it had actually completely thickened up and I felt it was a bit too chunky to be a sauce. I figured it would be best to throw it into a food processor and thin it down a bit with some more liquid… no idea why, but I immediately thought I’d throw in the pistachios in as well! Since the sauce was a bit on the sweet side anyways, I knew the pistachios would offer a bit of saltiness as well as some crunch. Perfect.
“Oh Makena! I need your help again! Can you take all the shells off of these?”
Into the mini food processor they go with my super chunky “sauce”, some water to thin things down, and why not add some cilantro for shits and giggles.
Yup, that worked perfectly.
Wait. Cilantro? Why not an Asian-Mexican fusion? Sounds interesting enough…
At this point, I only had the cauliflower and mushrooms left from the mystery ingredients. Did I mention earlier that I don’t really eat OR even like mushrooms? Up until about 6 months ago, I hadn’t ever even eaten a mushroom. However, I did start eating them (EXTREMELY chopped up mind you) in my morning egg scrambles for more VOLUME! I can tolerate them in my eggs but thats because I have a ton of other things in it which means I don’t actually taste them. Gah, mushrooms! Why??? Why?
OK, cauliflower. Gotta deal with that first because the fungi were honestly just giving me more anxiety at this point in my challenge.
Hhhmmmm. First thought was a cauliflower crust. I have made many before so it seemed like the best route to go. Just as I began to get going on it though, I immediately remembered this was a brunch challenge and the more I looked at my overall dish, I felt it was much more lunch-ey than anything. How can I make things more breakfast-ey? Eggs. Breakfast always means eggs for me anyhow. Perfect. Instead of the 1 egg I normally do on my cauliflower crusts, I would make more of an egg “pancake” and throw my meat and sauce on that I guess? Better yet, I’m going to call it an egg tortilla! Seems fitting since I’m doing an Asian/Mexican fusion kinda thing. Let’s do it…
Chopped my beautiful cauliflower a bit and threw it into a large food processor to “rice” it…
I actually don’t pulverize it completely though. I like having a bit more texture opposed to mush so I pulsed the processor about 10-12 times only until everything was fairly even.
Then I put the cauliflower into a bowl, covered with saran wrap, and microwaved for about 6 minutes, just until it was softened a bit. Some people boil theirs for crusts. I don’t have time for all that. Microwave is my friend.
Once it’s cool enough to work with, place the cauliflower in a kitchen towel and ring out as much liquid as you can. This is EXTREMELY important for these “tortillas” or any cauliflower crust for that matter. Gotta get all the moisture out or else anything you make will be too soggy to hold up or crisp!
You will be left with a nice little tight cauliflower ball…
Next, I combined all of my “tortilla” ingredients and set aside for 5-6 minutes to thicken up just a bit more.
Also added some cilantro to make sure that my flavors were brought in everywhere and it all tied together. Thank you Food Network and chopped for dropping that bit of knowledge!
Then I cooked them off! I used a 1/2 cup measure to scoop, poured into a small pan that was greased with cooking spray and a bit of olive oil, and flattened/spread the batter out as much as I could. I pressed each into the size of a small tortilla… maybe 6″-7″ or so. Cooked 3-4 minutes per side until golden! These shots are before my flip.
Time to deal with those darn mushrooms. I really didn’t want to cook them with my chicken and didn’t want to use them raw (I don’t even know if they are good raw, its a mushroom after all which I don’t like to begin with so, yeah I doubt it). I knew I should do something with them (again, thanks Chopped judges for always telling contestants “I wish you would have transformed your ingredients!”) Note taken. Transform, even slightly. Check.
What have I done with veggies in the past that I don’t necessarily like eating which ALWAYS makes them yummy… ROASTING! Bingo! Let me see if I can throw these in the oven and crisp them up! They will be perfect as a little garnish and hopefully add a little crunch to my tacos! Roasting anything is magic so hopefully it will allow me to put these things in my mouth.
Can I just say how easy these mushrooms were to roast? Literally, 325 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Turn oven off as soon as they begin to get golden brown. Leave them in there with the door open and they get SO crispy and perfect. I didn’t even add oil, salt, pepper. I’m a new fan and might just need to have more mushrooms in my life. Roasted of course. Although, I have no idea if roasting works on regular mushrooms? Thats for another day though. Home stretch on this challenge now. Finish strong!
Last step, lets cook off that chicken!!!! You can throw them all in a sauté pan BUT nothing beats the grill. I love the extra flavor the grill gives food, especially those burnt crisp pieces! These little nuggets are no exception. They came out perfect!
Orange cauliflower, tamarind, pistachios, “lemon” Elli quark, and enoki mushrooms. Check, check, check, check, AND check!!! Well, I used everything I was supposed to. Everything tasted good on it’s own anyways!
Now I just needed to bring it all together and make it look nice. After all, that food photographer and food stylist would be watching me.
Because all of the ingredients were so fresh and colorful on their own, thats exactly the route I went with my styling. I wanted everything to look bright, fresh, “clean”, and delicious!
Even those darn mushrooms look beautiful if I do say so myself…
Of course, one can have the most beautiful dish in the world BUT if it doesn’t taste good whats the point? Time to taste…
Not going to lie here… this is easily one of the best non dessert dishes I have ever made. All of the flavors and textures came together perfectly. This particular taco shown was eaten in less than 45 seconds. I felt like an animal eating it because it was so delicious! That sauce though…. mmmmm. So good!
Challenge accepted, completed, and I’m a very very happy girl! I think I thought out of the box (the mystery box that is), definitely out of my comfort zone creating a dish using ingredients I normally wouldn’t use (and one I didn’t even think I would like), and was left with a dish that is not only beautiful to look at but me and my entire family LOVED!!! I will be making these again very very soon!!!