Belated Vegan Friday: Mexican gumbo

Protip: If you make dinner at home, nobody gives you the side-eye or charges you extra for topping it with half a cup of guacamole.

I posted a version of this recipe once before, but I’ve tweaked it a little to make it faster, easier and slightly better. It’s basically my riff on Qdoba’s Mexican gumbo, which I love, but which has made me terribly ill the last few times I’ve eaten it. Could be a coincidence, but I think it’s more likely that I’ve developed an allergy/sensitivity/whatever to some ingredient they’re using. Anyway, here’s my version. As always, adjust the spices to suit your taste.

Mmmmm … cilantro.

Mexican Gumbo

For the soup part:
1 cube vegetable bouillon
2 c. water
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can chopped green chiles
2 cloves garlic, minced, or 1 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tbsp. chili powder
2 tbsp. ground cumin
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped coarsely with scissors
2 tbsp. lime juice

Throw everything in the Crock-Pot, turn it on low and ignore it until you’re ready to use it. (If you’re cooking at the last minute, you can also make your soup on the stove or in the microwave.)

If you have the storage space, a rice cooker is a great tool.

For the rice part:
Make a batch of plain white rice. Add a handful of coarsely chopped fresh cilantro when you add the rice. I like to make mine in an automatic rice cooker, because I’m lazy.

Hard to go wrong with black beans and salsa.

For the beans:
Can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. salsa
Chili powder to taste
Cumin to taste
Onion powder to taste
Garlic powder to taste

Throw everything in a small saucepan and cook gently until heated through.

You know I’ll seize any available excuse to eat avocado.

For garnish:
Fresh avocado slices or guacamole (I kept mine simple and just mashed up the avocado with a little chili and cumin, a sprinkling of chile-lime salt, and a squirt or two of lime juice)
Tortilla chips if desired
Salsa if desired

To assemble, put a big scoop of rice, a big scoop of beans and a big scoop of tortilla soup in each bowl and top with avocado, guacamole, tortilla chips, salsa or all of the above. Makes about three big servings.


Eco-Saturday: Eliminate phantom loads

I know, I know. I owe you a Folk Thursday, a Vegan Friday and an Eco-Saturday. This week has been nuts. Let’s start with today’s Eco-Saturday offering, and I’ll work backwards from there.

One quick and very easy way to reduce your environmental footprint is by eliminating phantom loads.

A phantom load is, in essence, a very small but completely unnecessary power drain. It doesn’t help you at all. It doesn’t make you more comfortable. It doesn’t entertain you. It doesn’t save you time or money. It just sits there sucking power for no good reason, and odds are fairly high you don’t even know it’s doing it, because it does it even while it’s shut off — hence the term “phantom.”

For instance, if you have a stereo, its speakers draw a small amount of power whenever it’s plugged in — even if you’re not using it, and even if you shut off the power button. My record player, television, compact stereo and digital piano all create phantom loads. So do the built-in clocks on my stove and microwave and the pointless little blue light on my coffee grinder.


Shutting off the appliance isn’t enough. To eliminate a phantom load, you have to cut off the power supply altogether. You can do this by unplugging the appliance, of course, but a much faster and easier approach is to plug it into a power strip; then, instead of plugging and unplugging all the time, you can simply flip the switch on the power strip, cutting off all the energy to the appliance and eliminating the corresponding phantom load.

You can buy a basic power strip for less than $10. It’s an easy, convenient way to save energy, and if you’re thinking of installing solar panels on your home at some point in the future, this is a must-do. Solar panels cost about $800 apiece, so the fewer of them you have to buy, the better off you are. I’d be mad if I shelled out $800 just to power a bunch of redundant digital clocks and useless lights whose sole function is to tell me the coffee grinder is ready to work.

In general, if an appliance has a built-in speaker or clock, it’s drawing power all the time and probably should be plugged into a power strip.