Monday, August 22, 2011

Roasted Chili Relish

Yes, I'm in a rut, but some good things are coming from it, so I'm gonna go with it for a bit. This week my daughter wanted taco night before going back to college. I wanted something hot and smoky to go with my tacos, and being a hot freak, I had a few chilies in the fridge. I decided I didn't really want a salsa, though; I wanted something crunchy and hot as a condiment to my tacos, something more like a relish - though not pickled. Here's what I concocted. I would be awesome on roasted pork, but was also pretty great on ground turkey tacos (see recipe somewhere in the annals of this blog), with green blender salsa (also in this blog), tomatoes, black olives and shredded cheese. Mmmmmmm, hot, smoky and nutty!

Roasted Chili Relish
(makes about a cup)
2 jalepenos, roasted, stemmed and minced
1 habanero, roasted, stemmed and minced - DO NOT TOUCH WITH BARE HANDS!
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 bunch of scallions, chopped 1-1/2" into the green part
Fresh lime juice, about 1/4th of a lime
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp (scant) fresh ground black pepper (aka, a lot of pepper!)
Kosher salt to taste

Rub the chilies with a little oil and roast on the grill until well-charred all over. Mince finely - be very careful with the habaneros! Cut the root end off of the scallions, then split each one lengthwise with your knife, then mince. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and season to taste - about 1/3 to 1/2 tsp Kosher salt - you want it pleasantly salty. This relish will be very hot and strongly-peppery on its own, but spooned onto roasted meats or on tacos, it is fantastic!

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Some Like it Hot" Salsa

Continuing on my salsa theme, my latest challenge was to create a salsa meant to be served warm. This was a fun puzzle...most of the hallmarks of salsa - fresh tomatoes or other fruits, fresh chilies and onions, cilantro, that pleasing contrast of soft and crunchy, saucy and chunky textures, and principally uncooked ingredients - are all challenged by the "serve warm" requirement. It forced me to think about what is most essential in a salsa - what's at the heart of our love affair with salsas? What's the difference between a salsa and a sauce or a condiment?

First and foremost, salsas are for dipping corn chips, or accompanying Mexican or Southwestern foods. They are characterized by Mexican and Southwestern flavors - chilies, acid (lime or tomato are typical), garlic and onion. Sometimes they are very simple - tomatoes, onions, garlic, jalepenos, salt and pepper, rough chopped - and sometimes they are complex - with multiple aromatics, including cilantro, oregano, cumin, annato, cinnamon, cloves, etc., plus the many, many varieties of fresh, dried and smoked chilies.

Having said all that, salsas are, of course, sauces: salsa is the Spanish word for sauce. And they are also condiments: we use them to enhance foods in much the same way we use ketchup, or chutney, or sauer kraut, or chow-chows. So a salsa is really defined by its culinary context - the flavors it contains, and the food we're eating it with.

So here's a hot salsa - yes, spicy hot, but more importantly, temperature hot. It's pretty addicting. I love it served in a warm, shallow bowl, sprinkled with queso fresco, and eaten with good quality tortilla chips.

"Some Like it Hot" Salsa
(makes about two cups)
1 T canola or light olive oil
2 large or 3 medium shallots, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1-2 fresh habanero peppers, stemmed and rough-chopped - DO NOT TOUCH WITH BARE HANDS!
3 dried ancho chilies, stemmed, seeded and torn into pieces
4 roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and rough chopped
2 pinches dried oregano
1/2 tsp cumin
Fresh ground pepper - about 1/3 tsp
Kosher salt to taste

Saute shallots, garlic and habaneros in oil over med-low heat until well-softened and just starting to brown. Add remaining ingredients, plus a cup or more of water. Add some salt at this point - about a 1/2 tsp - but you'll add more later. Increase heat to medium and bring to a low boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until about half of the liquid has evaporated, and the tomatoes and anchos are well-softened, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to rest until cool enough to touch.

Pour everything into a blender and puree until very smooth. If needed, add a bit more water (or chicken or veggie stock) to make it loose enough to blend well. It should be just a bit looser than the consistency of ketchup. Taste, and adjust salt at this point. Using a spatula, scrape into a storage container and refrigerate for 1-3 days allowing the flavors to develop.

To serve, pour into a large shallow bowl and warm in a 250-degree oven until hot - about 10 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with queso fresco, and serve with fresh or high-quality corn tortilla chips and Mexican beer or margaritas. Garnish with sliced radishes if you want.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Nectarine Salsa

I appear to be in a salsa rut, but it is high summer after all, and this is soooooo yummy. It's quick, and only has a little kick of heat. This would be great on tacos or grilled meats or fish of all varieties. Or just eat it with chips.

Nectarine Salsa
(makes about a cup and a half)
2 nectarines, skinned and diced small (see notes below)
1 red pepper, roasted, seeded and diced small (see notes below)
1-2 jalapenos, all seeds removed, then minced finely
3 scallions, minced
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced
2 T minced fresh cilantro
Kosher salt to taste

For this recipe, I like semi-firm nectarines - not fully ripened, but not hard and woody. At the store, feel them for just a slight amount of give, and smell them - they should have a bright nectarine smell. If they don't have a smell, they're not ripe!

I peel nectarines by first cutting away chunks of the flesh from the pit, using a paring knife. Cut as close to the pit as you can, feeling your way with the knife as you go. Next, lay the slices skin-side down on a cutting board, and working carefully so you don't cut yourself, cut with the paring knife parallel to the board, removing just a thin layer of the skin and as little flesh as possible. They are round, so you'll have to do this from a few different angles. Cut the skinned nectarines into small dice - about 1/8th inch.

Roasting red peppers is magical and easy. Rub the pepper with a little oil. Over a gas burner or grill, char it black all over. You can do this under the broiler as well. Make sure it's black - it won't burn the flesh. Important: put the pepper in a bowl and cover it with a plate or some foil and let it sit for 10 minutes. This will steam and loosen the skin. Remove the pepper to a cutting board, cut off the stem end (be careful - it will still be hot!), pull out all the seeds and pith, and remove all of the charred skin (most of it will flake or rub can use a paring knife to scrape loose any stubborn bits). That's it!

Mince scallions by making a horizontal slice along the length of the scallion starting at the green part and going through the white part. Then cut into thin slices up to the point where you started the lengthwise cut.

Tip on selecting limes: the juiciest ones have smooth, shiny skin. The bumpy ones are woodier and less juicy. If your half lime doesn't yield much juice, use a whole lime.

Mix all ingredients. Season - use enough salt so you can just taste it, but it's still sweet. You may need to double this recipe - it goes fast!!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Roasted Corn and Habanero Salsa

I'm on a crazy-hot salsa kick. My business partner, Mason, and I are always complaining that even at restaurants with supposedly really hot food, we can't get really hot food. Our latest pet peeve is Mexican restaurants that don't have a fresh habanero in the whole joint. Really? Granted, most folks aren't eating food that hot, but isn't there someone back in the kitchen roasting and eating them whole and cursing the mayonnaise-palated gringos in the dining room?

So, I may try a few more of these incendiary concoctions. This one would be great on fish tacos or with roasted pork of any variety, especially carnitas with soft corn tortillas. Keep plenty of cervezas at hand to put out the fire!

Roasted Corn and Habanero Salsa
(makes about a cup)
1 ear of corn in the husk
1-4 habaneros, depending on level of idiocy
3 scallions, finely sliced
3 fresh tomatillos
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp high-quality ancho chili powder
1/4 tsp (or to taste) freshly-ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste

Start the grill. Remove the paper husks from the tomatillos, rinse, and boil in salted water for 4-6 minutes, until opaque and beginning to fall apart. Drain. Rub the habaneros in a little oil for grilling. Remove the silk from the end of the corn, but leave the husks on. Put the peppers and corn on the grill, turning regularly, until the peppers are lightly browned all over, and the corn husks are well-darkened on all sides. Remove from heat to cool for a bit. Carefully husk the corn (it's hot!!). If the kernels are not lightly browned in places, return the denuded corn to the grill, turning frequently and watching carefully, to lightly brown it.

While the grilled items are cooling, put the tomatillos in a medium bowl and break into mush with your hands, discarding any skin that won't break apart easily. Add the scallions, garlic and lime juice. Cut the corn from the cob, break apart the kernels, and add to the bowl. VERY CAREFULLY remove the stems from the habanero peppers and mince them finely with a chef's knife. Do not touch them with your bare hands! Us a spoon or spatula with the knife to get the minced peppers into the bowl. Rinse everything well!

Add the remaining ingredients, mix well, and test for salt. It should have a pleasant sweet-sour-salty-HOT flavor. This salsa will keep for a day or two, and will be best a few hours after making it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Turkey Breakfast Sausage

Sometimes I worry about our ever-growing distance from making our own food. Paradoxically, while the availability of artisanal, sustainable and small-batch foodstuffs is exploding, it seems we make our own less and less. Who do you know that makes their own fruit preserves? Cures their own meats? Bakes their own bread? A few of us, but not as many as our grandparents' generation, to be sure.

So here's a simple step back into homemade goodness. Store-bought sausages are typically laden with nitrites and other preservatives. You can make a simple, delicious, and healthy breakfast sausage in minutes with ground turkey that is leaner and tastier than store-bought varieties. I whipped this up for Easter brunch while the waffle maker was steaming away one-at-a-time on the waffles.

Turkey Breakfast Sausage
(makes about a dozen patties)
1 lb. ground turkey (I use Jenny-O 93/7, which is 7% fat)
1 T brown sugar
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp rubbed sage (a bit more if it's very fluffy)
1/2 tsp dried onion flakes (or 1/4 tsp onion powder - no salt)
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (depending on heat desired)
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (or ground nutmeg)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste - 2 tsp or more

Put all the dried spices (except salt and sugar) into a small mortar and pestle (or other grinding/crushing tool) and grind to a fine powder. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Now that critical step, tasting for salt. I have no issues tasting a bit of raw meat, but if you do, pinch off a bit and fry it up. If tasting raw, remember that the sausage will reduce in volume by about 1/3, so a moderately salty raw mix will be quite salty when cooked. I personally like my sausages salty, so I season until pleasantly salty raw, which will be bordering on the edge of too salty when cooked. Mmmmmm, salty!

Pour a little olive oil in a large cast iron or non-stick skillet and heat over a medium burner. Form the sausage into little patties and cook until brown on both sides. Deeeelish!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dragon Salsa

I've been craving something very, very hot for about 3 weeks. I've had several meals jacked up with hot sauces and hot ingredients, but nothing has rung my bell. When I was planning to make tacos for dinner tonight, I decided to unleash the nukes. This is dangerously hot, so beware! I ate one whole batch myself...which I will regret in the morning.

Dragon Salsa
(makes about 1 cup)
1 fresh habanero, lightly oiled and grilled until roasty-brown on all sides
2 fresh jalepenos, lightly oiled and grilled until blackened on all sides
Juice of 1/4 fresh lime
1/4 onion, diced
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic, minced
1 tomato, diced
3 T chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly-cracked black pepper

While the chilies are roasting, chop and mix all remaining ingredients. Allow the chilies to rest on a cutting board after grilling, to cool them down. Cut off and discard the stems, and mince the peppers, including seeds and skins. Add to remaining ingredients and mix well. Adjust salt as needed.

BE CAREFUL not to touch the chilies with your bare hands - especially the habanero. It will burn your skin, and if you touch your eyes, nose, or other sensitive parts, they will be burned. Use the knife and a spatula or other utensil to handle the peppers during mincing and placing them into the salsa.