It started with the Mexico Issue of Saveur Magazine
. Pair that with a hungry houseguest and a hankering for some kitchen time and I had the perfect opportunity for a latin-inspired lunch. Actually, it was supposed to be a dinner, but time got away from me and we had to move our lovely meal to lunch the next day. Trust me, it was worth the wait.
When it comes to flavors, there are few that I love more than those that are Latin-inspired. I, myself, was adopted from Santiago, Chile and, on some deep level, feel that these flavors are in my blood. Garlic and lime, onion and spices, avocados and peppers. They all make perfect sense to me, not to mention, the bright and bold colors that call to my senses.
Loot from the tiendita
I had a pork shoulder that was dying to be marinated and a bag full of ingredients that I picked up from the "tiendita" (which means "little store") up the street, a tip from my Mexican coworkers. For the pork, I chose a homemade adobo sauce which included plenty of garlic, fresh oregano, salt, pepper and vinegar. This one mirrors a traditional adobo mojado which is most often found in Puerto Rican cuisine. This is the kind of pork that big booties are made of.
For the sides, I picked a simple salad from the pages of Saveur Magazine
, something called Salsa de Abanil
which is a simple and stunning combination of avocados topped with tomatillo salsa, queso fresco and cilantro. I love simple dishes that look so darn pretty. It makes your work in the kitchen look much harder than it really is and who am I to argue the contrary?
Salsa de Abanil: Avocados topped with tomatillo salsa, queso fresco and cilantro
For the second side dish, I created a salad inspired by the guys I work with in the restaurant kitchen. During shifts, they'll whip up super simple snacks that are alive with flavor from just a few ingredients. The last time I brought in cucumbers from the garden, they sliced them and tossed them in a mixture of lime juice, salt and cayenne. My salad mimics that combo and adds a sweet component with fresh mango slices along with cilantro and red onion.
My pork benefited from the happy accident of having to wait an extra day. I marinated the shoulder and let it sit overnight in the fridge which allowed extra time for the garlic and spices to permeate the meat. We dined al fresco that afternoon, the Mister and his best friend, our illustrious house guest and best man at our wedding. There was lots of grunting and lip-smacking, a sign of a good meal from the man folk.
I was happy too. Salty pork, sweet and spicy cucumber salad and a creamy avocado dish combined for perfectly balanced flavors and a soul-satisfying meal.
Slow-roasted Pork in Adobo Mojado adapted from Tyler Florence Pernil al Horno
1 Pasture-raised Pork Shoulder, about 3 pounds
4 garlic cloves smashed
3 stems fresh oregano, leaves removed from stem
3 tablespoons kosher salt ( one tablespoon for every pound)
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Place the pork on a clean surface and score small slits all over the pork shoulder. In a mortar and pestle, smash the garlic, oregano, salt and pepper together into a paste. Transfer garlic paste to a small bowl, add olive oil and vinegar and stir. Use your hands to rub marinade all over the pork. Be sure to stuff the garlic and spices into the small slits. Once you are finished rubbing the pork, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap, set on a plate and refrigerate for three hours or up to overnight.
Once the pork has marinated, remove from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before roasting. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place pork in a roasting pan with a rack insert and roast for 2 hours, uncovered until the top gets golden brown. Remove from the oven and let it rest, tented with aluminum foil, for 10 minutes before slicing. Salsa de AbanilTomatillo salsa with Avocado and Queso Fresco
slightly adapted from Saveur Magazine
7 tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
1/4 cup white onion, minced
2 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Generous pinch of kosher salt, to taste
Queso fresco, to crumble over top
2 avocados, halved, pitted and sliced
In a large pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil and then add tomatillos. Cook for 5 minutes, until tomatillos are soft and mellow in color. Drain, cool and set aside. Once tomatillos are cool to touch, slice in half and add to food processor (or blender) with 1/3 cup cilantro, 2 tablespoons of white onion, jalapeno, garlic and salt and pulse until a chunky consistency forms. Pour salsa into a dish and set aside.
Layer avocado onto a plate and spoon salsa over top avocado slices. Crumbles queso fresco over top and garnish with remaining onions and cilantro. Serve with remaining tomatillo salsa on the side. Spicy Cucumber-Mango Salad
2 large cucumbers, peeled, halved, seeded and sliced into 2-inch half-moons
1/4 red onion, sliced thin
1 mango, peeled and sliced into 2-inch pieces
Juice of 1 lime
Kosher salt, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons cilantro, roughly chopped
With a vegetable peeler, peel outer skin of cucumber leaving a few sections unpeeled so that the cucumber looks striped. Slice cucumber vertically in half and scoop out seeds with a spoon. Flip the cucumber so the seeded portion is faced down and slice the cucumbers horizontally into half-moons.
Add cucumber, sliced onion and mango to a bowl. Add a generous pinch of salt and all of lime juice. Add two large pinches of cayenne and mix well. Adjust seasonings according to your spice level preference. Chill salad in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle. Just before serving, sprinkle cilantro over the salad.
I don't know about you, but when I'm juggling an obscene amount of projects and obligations, my brain defaults into rapid fire mode. It. Doesn't. Stop.
Times like these are stress inducing, no doubt, and usually show up in the form of sleep interrupted. I wake up at odd times, my thoughts scampering off in ten different directions like a dog unleashed into an open field. Most of the time, they are too jumbled, schizophrenic and panicked. On rare occasions, I get an idea like I did the other morning.
It was somewhere between four and five a.m. when I awoke with a distinct thought to make a BLT salad with lemon buttermilk dressing and spicy pepitas. That was the exact thought, no kidding. So, I scribbled it onto the neverending list of recipe ideas and tried to get back to sleep for the love of GOD!!!
The idea does what it wants. I went to the kitchen the next day to sort it out.
I've been craving a BLT lately too. Maybe it's all the stress or maybe I just love bacon. Or, maybe my subconscious conjured up the next best thing to a BLT since I've been anti-bread lately (except for this one time
because it was absolutely necessary).
For my BLT salad to be a good substitute, I needed a creamy component like I need a big glob of mayonnaise on a real BLT. I also needed more texture and crunch which is where my lovely pepitas come in.
Don't know what a pepita is?
It's short for the Mexican term "pepita de calabaza" which means "little seed of squash." You may know it as a pumpkin seed. BO-RING! Pepita has a much better ring to it, don't you think? Anything with an "-ita" sounds so festive to me- Margarita. Pepita. Senorita.
Anyways, with a name like pepita, I needed to add some kick. Hence, spicy pepitas. You're going to love-ita.
BLT Salad with Lemon-Buttermilk Dressing and Spicy Pepitas
My dressing came out a little sweet which was fine considering it had to rub elbows with the spicy pepitas and salty bacon. Feel free to reduce the amount of honey you add to suit your tastes. You'll also notice that there is no oil in the dressing. I found that the yogurt emulsified the mixture better than olive oil which made a watery dressing.
Also, the red chili for the pepitas is the kind you find at your Indian grocery store, also known as Resham Patti. It's hot chiles ground to a fine powder, not the spice mixture for the American bowl of chili. For the salad, add whatever you like. I think avocadoes and cucumbers would be ace.
For the Salad:
A handful of mixed field greens
1 ripe tomato. cut into medium-size chunks
4 slices of uncured bacon, cooked crispy and chopped into bits
Toss field greens and tomatoes with dressing and arrange onto a plate. Top salad with bacon and pepitas and whatever other toppings that strike your fancy. Enjoy!
For the Dressing:
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons full fat plain yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
Salt and pepper to taste
In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients together. The dressing should thicken up nicely. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Next time, I would add a pinch of cayenne to the dressing.
For the Pepitas:
1 cup pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds)
1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
11/2 teaspoons red chili powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemon zest, divided
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl combine olive oil, red chili powder, salt, lemon juice and half of lemon zest. Toss pepitas in mixture until well coated and spread into a single layer on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Roast until golden, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle remaining lemon zest and a pinch of salt over roasted pepitas and store cooled pepitas in a container for future use. I like to eat them alone as a snack.
I'm going to go ahead and call it- summer is officially upon us. One hundred degree temperatures, sunshine as all get out and days that seem like years. Yep, sweaty pits and all, summer's here!
I'm not complaining. The garden is near prime time and all the lovely veggies are thriving. The basil I planted from seed is rooted firmly in the ground. Its big fat leaves, green and lush, are reaching for the sky. The zucchini is prolific too, yellow blooms and pollinators intermingle with broad leaves like arms outstretched to welcome the sun.
I'm so grateful to live slow enough to witness this stuff.
This may just be the perfect summer dish. I recently bookmarked a recipe for zucchini ribbon skewers in the Food and Wine Annual Cookbook 2012
, a book I "borrowed" from my mother a few weeks back. The cookbook version paired thinly sliced zucchini ribbons with paper thin prosciutto and mint dressing. I opted for two versions, one with zucchini and prosciutto, like the book, and another with grilled peaches, basil and prosciutto. Instead of mint dressing, I decided to use the basil in my garden to make basil oil for a colorful drizzle. For shizzle.
The skewers are grilled until the prosciutto lightly crisps and the fruit and vegetables char slightly. See that whole plate? We may have eaten the entire thing for lunch. We drizzled the basil oil over top and went to town. Sweet juicy peaches, salty prosciutto and an herby (that's right, I just made up a word) pop from the basil along with yummy zucchini, barely cooked, was the perfect celebration of summer on a stick. This will happen again and again until summer is over.
Grilled Summer Skewers with Basil Oil
Take liberty with your skewers. Look for combinations that offer different textures and flavors. Mix salty with sweet, fresh with savory and look for items that are in season. I'm thinking watermelon would be a lovely addition to any skewer, maybe with fresh mint and lamb kabob? Get funky with it. For the basil oil, I blanched the basil so that it would retain a vibrant green color. Bright green drizzle says summer. Nasty brown? Not so much.
For the basil oil:
1 1/2 cups of fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup olive oil
Bring small saucepan of water to a rolling boil and add the basil. Boil for 1-2 minutes, basil should turn a brilliant green. Remove basil from heat, drain and plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain basil again and pat dry. Place basil with the excess moisture removed into a blender with olive oil and blend. Set aside for drizzling.
For the skewers:
10 Bamboo skewers
1 large zucchini, sliced thin lengthwise, on a mandolin (use a knife if you do not have a mandolin)
1/4 pound-1/2 pound of prosciutto, sliced paper thin (have the deli do this for you)
3 medium peaches, sliced into chunks
Fresh basil leaves, torn
Soak the skewers for 30 minutes in water. This will prevent them from completely burning up during the grilling process. Set your grill to medium-high heat. Make the skewers by layering each with zucchini and prosciutto, alternating to fill the skewer. Do the same with the second version. Layer the peach, prosciutto and torn basil pieces, alternating each. Place the skewers over medium-high heat and grill, about 4 minutes, turning once or twice to cook all sides evenly. Remove skewers when prosciutto has a light crisp on the edges and you notice a light char on the peaches and zucchini.
Drizzle basil oil over top and eat. Summer is served.
Perk number three thousand and two for growing your own vegetables: Zucchini blossoms
Too delicate and temporary for availability at most markets, zucchini blossoms are gifts for the gardener. They arrive shortly before the fruit and possess edible qualities along with ethereal beauty. I didn't have to do much to make a beautiful dish except not destroy the fragile blossoms during the stuffing process. They are, for lack of a better term, quite easy on the eyes.
Zucchini (and squash) also allow for you to have your cake and eat it too. The females are the only blossoms that produce fruit so you can let them grow to maturity and go all praying mantis on the male blossoms. I love that. We eat the men.
Blossoms are typically stuffed and roasted or battered and fried. I was inspired to stuff and roast them with a mixture of ricotta, pancetta, lemon zest, mint and basil from the garden. You can really get creative with the filling and use whatever you have on hand. I saw a sweet version served as a dessert. We served ours drizzled with Mikes Hot Honey
atop a bed of sauteed kale with pancetta and onions, a surprisingly satisfying lunch. Stuffed and Roasted Zucchini Blossoms
For the pancetta, it would be easier to purchase a thicker cut, about a half-inch thick, to cut into small cubes and render in a pan. I already had slices on hand so that's what I used.
8 zucchini blossoms
6 slices of pancetta, stacked and cut into cubes
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
zest of one lemon
1 clove garlic, pressed
5 leaves of basil chiffonade
5 leaves of mint chiffonade
1 egg, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place pancetta in a pan over medium high heat and cook until pancetta renders and crisps, about 4 minutes. In the meantime, combine all other ingredients in a bowl and beat egg in a separate bowl to use as egg wash. Once pancetta is ready, add to mixture of ingredients and combine well. Gently and generously stuff each blossom with ricotta mixture. Once they are all stuffed, brush each blossom with egg wash and arrange in a single layer on the pan. Roast blossoms for 10 minutes, until the ricotta mixture bubbles out slightly and each blossom has a golden sheen. Serve immediately.