This was my first time making masa (corn) crepes, but certainly not my last. Really enjoyed the process — ladling the batter, swirling the pan to get them as thin as possible, flipping them, and then stacking ’em up — like a well-oiled machine, I quickly found my rhythm. Rather therapeutic, in fact.

The filling — beets and beet greens. I never get overly excited about beets. Like them, tolerate them, am a bit indifferent to them. Really, how does one get excited about beets? Despite my indifference, I usually find myself with beets on hand, hiding in the back of the refrigerator amidst the more desirable vegetables that tend to get used up first. Thus, am always trying to conjure up ways to liven up beets a bit, give them a little pizzazz.

I started with masa crepes, beets, and the beet greens. Hmm, it needs a sauce to tie it all together. Something kind of spicy to balance the sweetness of the beets. How about a guajillo salsa? Guajillo chiles tend to be medium in heat. They produce a deep red sauce that is lightly fruity, a little smoky, with berry undertones. Next, pickled red onions (for a bit of acidity), feta cheese (because life if better with a little cheese), and topped with toasted pumpkin seeds for much needed crunch.

Thoughts of food constantly flood my brain. Am always thinking about combinations and pairings — maybe this would be good with that or how about incorporating a little bit of… This usually occurs while out on a long run or walk. There’s good reason for that:

According to Gretchen Reynold’s new book, exercise (as little as going for a walk) improves your ability to think at all ages and way into your 80s. It actually changes the structure of your brain — increases the ability to make new brain cells and increases the volume in the brain where you process memories.

To sum it up: Exercise keeps you young, physically and mentally. Exercise gets the creative juices flowing, which in turn can lead to dishes that will make your mouth sing.

I like to boil the beets (skins and all) until pretty tender, smash them flat, and then crisp them up in a pan with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme.

So there you go, masa crepes, beets and beet greens, pickled onions, guajillo salsa, toasted pumpkin seeds, and feta cheese — a savory crepe with all the fixins’. There are many steps, but you can accomplish them in stages. Prepare the pickled onions and toasted guajillo salsa in advance. They taste even better after a day or two. Just reheat the salsa before serving, adding more water if needed to thin it out a bit.

Some days you just need a slightly different perspective…

Beets, Beet Greens, and Masa Crepes

Masa Crepes (recipe below)
Beet Filling (recipe below)
Toasted Guajillo Salsa (recipe below)
Pickled red onions (recipe below)
Feta cheese, crumbled
Cilantro, chopped
Toasted pumpkin seeds

Toast pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet until they begin to pop and lightly brown.

Place a crepe on plate, fill with handful of beet greens, a few pieces of beet, and a little bit of crumbled feta. Fold in half. Garnish with guajillo sauce, chopped cilantro, a little more feta, pickled red onions, and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Masa Crepes

makes about 10 9-inch crepes
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup masa harina or fine cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
Butter for greasing pan

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl or blender until smooth. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes.

Heat a 9-inch nonstick pan over medium heat. Brush with a little butter. Add 1/4 cup batter to the pan. Swirl the pan to cover the bottom as thin as possible. Cook ~ 2 minutes, until lightly browned. Flip and cook for another 30 seconds. Place on a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter. Stack on top on one another and repeat.

Beet Filling

1 bunch of beets and their greens, greens chopped into thin strips
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 jalapeno, minced
salt and pepper to taste
squeeze of lemon
olive oil

Boil the beets (skins on) until tender. Drain. Smash with the back of a wooden spoon. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the smashed beets. Season with salt and pepper, and fresh thyme. Cook 2 to 3 minutes until crispy, flip and repeat on the other side. Roughly chop into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

Add another tablespoon of olive over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute ~ 1 minute, until soft but not browned. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the beet greens and jalapeno. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Saute until wilted about 3-4 minutes. Add the reserved garlic and stir 15 to 20 seconds. Remove from the heat.

Toasted Guajillo Salsa

2 ounces (about 9) guajillo chiles
3 garlic cloves
1/2 medium onion
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon sugar or to taste
3/4 to 1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste

Set a heavy ungreased skillet or over medium heat, lay the unpeeled garlic and onion slices on the hot surface, turning occasionally until soft and blackened in a few spots, about 8 to 10 minutes for the onions and 15 to 20 minutes for the garlic. Cool, slip off garlic skins and add the onions and garlic to the blender jar.

Cut the chilies open and remove their seeds. Heat a dry skillet over medium heat. When hot, lay a chile down them on the hot surface and press flat with a metal spatula about 10 to 15 seconds, flip and repeat on the other side. Repeat with the remaining chiles. Transfer chiles to a bowl and cover with hot water and let rehydrate for 30 minutes. Drain off all water and discard.

Add the guajillo chiles to the blender jar along with the garlic, onions, apple cider vinegar, cumin, and  oregano. Add 1 cup of water and process to a smooth puree, scraping and stirring every few seconds.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, when hot enough to make a drop of the puree sizzle add the puree all at once. Season with salt and sugar. Cook stirring constantly, about 5 minutes, adding a little bit of water if it gets too thick.

Pickled Red Onions

1 small red onion, peeled and sliced about 1/8-inch thick
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, coarsely ground in a mortar or pestle or spice grinder
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt and few grindings of freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

Blanch the onions in boiling salted water for 45 seconds. Drain and place in a medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and enough water to barely cover. Stir well and let stand several hours until the onions turn bright pink. Covered and refrigerated will last several weeks.

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