Southwest feast

Vegetarian tamale tarts and mango crisp make a great meal for friends

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Tamale Tarts

Tamale Tarts

James Carrier

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In this story

Chili-Spiced Nuts

Tamale Tarts

Mexican Chopped Salad with Orange Crema

Pumpkin-Seed Salsa

Mango Crisp

Moving from textile art to food seemed natural to Donna Knopf, creator of Vegetas, a company that produces a line of healthy vegetarian products in Tempe, Arizona. "Designing and developing recipes is still a highly creative process. I've simply transferred my creativity," Knopf says. "Food is my new medium."

In the vegetarian menu she created for us, Knopf applies her instinct for good taste and design. She adds a little twist to make each dish her own. For instance, she layers tamale ingredients in dried cornhusks to make savory tarts.

Her Mexican chopped salad combines contrasting flavors and textures - juicy-sweet melon, creamy avocados, crunchy jicama - in a fresh presentation: Knopf offers the elements of the salad on a platter so guests can build their own. Serve the mango crisp with vanilla or dulce de leche ice cream. These creative takes on Southwestern flavors result in a stylish menu that's perfect for casual entertaining or celebrations with friends. (For more information about Vegetas: 480/966-4486.)

Strategy

If you take advantage of the make-ahead options, this meal is easy to handle.

Up to 1 week ahead: Make spiced nuts.

Up to 1 day ahead: Assemble tamale tarts (through step 3; cover and chill), make orange crema for salad, and prepare salsa.

Up to 6 hours ahead: Bake mango crisp.

Up to 4 hours ahead: Prepare salad (through step 1; cover and chill).

About 30 minutes ahead: Bake tamale tarts.

Just before serving: Complete salad.

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