Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Marinated Tunisian Chicken Kebabs with Raisin and Green Olive Relish

Marinated Tunisian Chicken Kebabs with Raisin and Green Olive Relish

Marinated Tunisian Chicken Kebabs with Raisin and Green Olive Relish
by Victoria Challancin

I have often suspected that I prepare main dishes just as an excuse to slip them under or alongside some dazzling condiment.  When I first discovered celebrity chef Susan Feniger's marinated chicken kebab recipe, that is just what I thought, "Wow, look at that relish and sauce!  Oh...and some chicken bits to go with it."  That, I fear, is how I frequently see recipes.

Susan Feniger, chef, renowned restauranteur, television personality, and cookbook author, outdid herself when she published Susan Feniger's Street Food:  Irresistibly Crispy, Creamy, Crunchy, Spicy, Sticky, Sweet Recipes, in which she serves up not only tempting recipes of street food from all over the world, but thrills with her personal travel anecdotes and photos, to inspire the home cook to reproduce authentic flavors and dishes back home, far from the steppes of Mongolia or the bazaars of Turkey.

This recipe works at several levels:  it can be prepared on the grill, in a grill pan or skillet on the stove, threaded onto kebabs, or simply served in cubes.  Maybe over rice...or pasta...or in a salad...or even a pasta salad.  And although the chicken is delightfully seasoned and works perfectly on its own (especially after I tarted it up a bit with a touch of garlic and chile), it is the two condiments that really make this recipe shine.  Half of the pepper marinade is reserved as a dipping sauce, but I found far more uses that a mere dipping sauce for this delectably-seasoned condiment.  In my house, it found its way into tuna salad, on crackers with cheese, in vegetarian wraps, and more.  And the accompanying relish, with its chunky textures and sweet-salty flavors, is equally good.  I've already had requests from my family to make more, chicken or not!

Marinated Tunisian Chicken Kebabs with Raisin and Green Olive Relish

Cook's Notes:  I used only chicken breasts instead of thighs, which worked fine.  Just be careful not to overcook the chicken.  Peppadew peppers, with their delicate flavor, are preferred; however, other fire-roasted jarred bell peppers could be substituted.  Because I had no access to currants, I substituted raisins in this luscious recipe. And while I am certain that currants would be wonderful, the raisins worked beautifully as well.  I might double up on the relish the next time I make this, as I surely will--it is just that good!  I also added a clove of garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes, because I couldn't help myself and they proved to be nice additions indeed.  As this was taught in a cooking class with many other dishes, I just didn't have time to light the grill, which would be the preferred way to prepare these by far.  Still, even cooked in a skillet and then threaded on to a skewer, this chicken is simply delicious.


  • Once cooked and chilled, this dish would work well mixed into a green salad.  Simply use some of the reserved marinade as the dressing and toss the chicken and some relish with the mixed greens.  
  • Also, if you are keen on pasta salads, you could toss the chicken, some marinade, and the relish with fusilli or other cooked pasta of choice.  
  • Leftovers, chopped fine, would be great on crostini or even a modern take on pizza
  • I used leftover marinade to smear on vegetarian wraps, which added a lovely, richly-flavored kick to them (sometimes with tuna or egg salad or hummus or cheese, and with tomatoes, avocados, and alfalfa sprouts)

Recipe:  Susan Feniger's Tunisian Chicken Kebabs with Raisins and Olives

2 medium red bell peppers
1 cup dried currants or raisins
One 14-oz jar sweet Peppadew or other sweet pickled red peppers, 1/2 cup of the juices from the jar reserved
1 large garlic clove, optional
1 or 2 pinches red pepper flakes, optional
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling
Kosher salt
3 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1-inch-wide strips (or cubes)
3 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts, lightly pounded and cut into 1-inch-wide strips (or cubes)

Roast the bell peppers directly over a gas flame or under the broiler, turning until charred all over. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool.  Peel, seed, and core the peppers.

Meanwhile, soak the currants or raisins in 1/2 cup of hot water until plump, about 5 minutes.  Drain and transfer the raisins to a blender.  Add the roasted peppers, Peppadews and their liquid and the 1 cup of olive oil.  If using the added garlic and red pepper flakes, add them now.  Puree.  Season the marinade lightly with salt.

Thread the chicken breast and thigh strips separately onto 30 to 40 bamboo skewers and transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet.  Pour half of the marinade over the chicken, turning to coat completely. Refrigerate for 4 hours.  Refrigerate the remaining half of the marinade in a serving bowl.

Light a grill (or alternately heat an oiled grill pan or heavy skillet and work in batches).  Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting the excess drip off.  Season the chicken with salt.  Oil the grill grates and grill the chicken skewers over high heat, in batches if necessary and turing with tongs, until lightly charred and cooked through, about 8 minutes for the breasts and 10n minutes for the thighs. Serve the kebabs hot or at room temperature with the reserved marinade and the Tunisian Relish (recipe below)

Make ahead:  The marinade can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
The extra marinade doubles as a dipping sauce

Cook's Notes:  I will certainly double this relish recipe the next time I make it.  It is wonderful with tuna, on crackers with cheese, on crostini--so many uses.  

Recipe:  Tunisian Relish
1 cup dried currants or raisins
1 cups pitted green olives, roughly chopped
1 cup sweet Peppadew peppers, chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
Kosher salt

In a bowl, soak the currants or raisins in hot water until plump, about 5 minutes.  Drain, pressing out the excess water.  Return the raisins to the bowl and add the olives, Peppadews, olive oil and vinegar. Season the relish with salt.

On the left is the marinade/dipping sauce; on the right, the olive relish.  Yum.

Parting Shot:  Jennifer's Heads

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Please do not use text or photos without permission.  Thanks!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Jerk Shrimp Tacos with Mango-Kiwi Salsa

 Jerk Shrimp Tacos with Mango-Kiwi Salsa

Jerk Shrimp Tacos with Mango-Kiwi Salsa
by Victoria Challancin

When the temperatures begin to creep up, what could be more welcome to the palate than a taste of the islands?  In this lively recipe, fresh shrimp blend with Caribbean spices, a touch of chile, and a tangy salsa made from seasonal tropical fruits.  Fast and easy to prepare,  this dish will dazzle you with its layers of bright flavors, including allspice, thyme, and chile--the triumvirate of ingredients necessary to all good "jerk" recipes.

For a little history on jerk dishes and my own recipe for Caribbean Jerk Chicken, click here.

 Mango-Kiwi Salsa

 Jerk Shrimp Tacos with Mango-Kiwi Salsa

Cook's Notes:  The original recipe uses cantaloupe in the salsa, but as mangoes are just coming into season here (and because I love them, love them, love them...), I chose the latter to make the fruit salsa and added a kiwi as well.  Of course, they are still a bit tart, so I added a touch of honey to round out the flavor.  Pineapple would work beautifully with this recipe as well.  I also reduced the amount of thyme to 1 teaspoon instead of two as I find thyme can be overpowering.  Normally, I would use corn tortillas, but here I chose to use whole wheat flour ones.  When I make these again, as I surely will, I think I will pat the shrimp slightly dry with a paper towel.  Oh, and if you want to make this even more authentic, substitute scotch bonnet or habanero chiles for the milder jalapeño or serrano!

Recipe:  Jerk Shrimp Tacos with Mango-Kiwi Salsa
(Recipe adapted from howsweeteats.com)

For the shrimp and marinade:
1 pound raw peeled and deveined shrimp
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Corn or flour tortillas
Crumbled ranch cheese/queso fresco
Lime wedges for serving

For the salsa:
1 cup chopped cantaloupe, mango, or pineapple
1 kiwi fruit, peeled and chopped
1 jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded and diced (or to taste)
1/4 red onion, diced
1/4 cup freshly torn cilantro
1 lime, juiced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons honey, if needed

To make the marinade:  About 1 hour before serving, whisk together all of the spiced (the minced onion through the salt) in a medium bowl.  Add the cleaned shrimp and toss with olive oil and lime juice.  Stir to coat the shrimp well, then marinate for 30 minutes in the fridge.  

To make the salsa:  While the shrimp are marinating, combine all the salsa ingredients in a bowl, seasoning with the salt.  Toss well and let sit until ready to eat.

After allowing 30 minutes for marinating the shrimp, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add a teaspoon or two of olive oil.  Add the shrimp and cook until pink and opaque throughout, about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp.  Warm tortillas, if desired, then assemble tacos with shrimp, salsa, and crumbled fresh ranch cheese on top.  Serve with lime wedges.

 Jerk Shrimp Tacos with Mango-Kiwi Salsa

Trasterso, from talented designer Laura Hogan, Studio Five, San Miguel de Allende

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mushroom Kofteh with Green Harissa

Vegetarian Herb-Laden Mushroom Kofteh with Green Harissa Sauce 

Mushroom Kofteh with Green Harissa
by Victoria Challancin

In honor of the upcoming tour I will lead to Morocco in April, I thought it was time to give a nod to a Moroccan recipe--or vaguely a Moroccan recipe.  Or a Persian recipe with a Moroccan sauce.  Perhaps I should say a "modern take on two iconic recipes from Iran and Morocco."  I could even just offer this delightful recipe up to you as a modern vegetarian recipe from my imaginary World Cafe.   

These mushroom patties, or kofteh (usually kefteh in Morocco), are a lovely vegetarian riff on the classic grilled meat patties known all over the Middle East, Near East, East Asia,  and North Africa.  Meat kofteh (spellings vary greatly) are generally redolent with garlic and fresh herbs as is this lovely vegetarian version by Chef Hoss Zaré, who features his native Persian cooking and modern interpretations of it in his Flytrap restaurant in San Francisco.  Remaining true to the Persian love of fresh herbs, Zaré offers here a rich, but light, vegetarian version of the classic grilled street food, but pairs it with another riff on a classic recipe, this time harissa, the staple red table sauce in Tunisia and Morocco.

For more information about harissa, click on my article Harissa:  A North African Condiment.  In this post I show you lots of photos of how harissa appears on the tables and in the markets of Morocco, along with a bit of history and my own personal recipe for a more traditional red harissa, which I developed over the years on my many journeys in Morocco--plus with a little help from my lovely friend Latifah.  If you like a bit of spice and kick to your food, you might just find yourself becoming addicted to this lively table condiment, no matter whether it is red or green!

 Mushroom Kofteh with Green Harissa

Cook's Notes:  The original recipe also includes an asparagus pesto, which I am certain would be delicious.  I thought, given the rest of my menu, that it might be gilding the lily, so I simply eliminated it.  Do check it out, though, as it looks tasty!  I used crimini mushrooms rather than a mix as that is what I easily found at the store.

Recipe:  Mushroom Kofteh with Green Harissa
(Adapted from a recipe by Hoss Zaré for Food and Wine Magazine)
Serves 8

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 1/2 pounds assorted wild mushrooms, such as oyster and stemmed shiitake, thinly sliced (8 cups)
1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (2 ounces)
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped basil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
Green Harissa (see the following recipe) for serving

In a nonstick skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the mushrooms, season with salt and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 12 minutes.  Transfer the mushrooms to a work surface and let cool slightly, then coarsely chop.  Transfer the mushrooms to a large bowl.  Add the panko, cheese, parsley, basil, lemon juice and cayenne and season with salt.  Add the eggs and egg whites and knead the mixture to combine.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Using lightly moistened hands, form the mushroom mixture into six 1-inch-thick patties and set them on the baking sheet.  Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Preheat a grill pan or a griddle, preferable nonstick, and brush with olive oil.  Brush the kofteh with oil and grill over high heat, turning once, until browned, about 5 minutes.  Return the kofteh to the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, until hot throughout.  Serve the kofteh with Green Harissa.

 Mushroom Kofteh with Green Harissa

Recipe:  Green Harissa
(Recipe by Hoss Zaré for Food and Wine Magazine)
Makes 1 cup

1/2 packed cup baby spinach leaves
1/2 packed cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 small jalapeños, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a blender pulse the spinach, parsley, paprika, cumin, cardamom, coriander, jalapeños garlic, lemon zest, orange zest, lemon juice and orange juice until the greens are chopped. With the machine on, add the oil and puree.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Mushroom Kofteh with Green Harissa

For information about the international tours I lead each year (cultural rather than culinary--though with lots of great food!), email me.

Parting Shots:

Paris Tour:  April 13-20, 2014
 I'll be having tea here soon!

Morocco Tour:  April 23-May 8, 2014
 That's a turban-wrapped me on the lead camel, taking this photo in 2013!

©Victoria Challancin.   All Rights Reserved.

Please ask permission before using photos or text.  Thanks!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Chicken Mofongo--Caribbean Fusion Food

Chicken Mofongo

Chicken Mofongo--Caribbean Fusion Food
by Victoria Challancin

To my readers:  After a rather lengthy hiatus when Life just got in the way, I am happy to be with you again--and ready to share lots of new recipes and ideas.  Thank you for your patience and also for your words of encouragement!

Mofongo.  Doesn't the word itself just gyrate across your tongue, calling up images of some exotic African dance?  When I eat mofongo, just by its name, I know I am delving into the world of fusion, fusion with hints of Africa, the Caribbean, Spain, and even South America.  Though mofongo may conjure up different things to different people (I am imagining my blog friend Norma of the wonderful Platanos, Mangoes and Me, crying out for an authentic Puerto Rican version of this dish, which is considerably different from this one), there is an underlying symphony of ingredients that usually shines through, with plantains as the main star.  In fact, mofongo is perfect fusion food with exotic tropical plantains brought to the Caribbean via Africa, blending with a typical Caribbean sofrito ( a melange of tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, and herbs), heightened with typical Spanish Iberic flavors of olive oil and garlic.  An Afro-Caribbean-Spanish is a feast for the senses and a delight to the palate.

Whether it contains mainly seasoned mashed plantains, or adds shrimp, fish, chicken, or even pork (especially pork cracklings), mofongo is simply one of those recipes you must try.  This version from The New York Times is so simple to make and fairly sings with its medley of ingredients, such as plantains, olives, tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, and subtle spices.  Serve it over steamed rice with a simple salad and you have an easy-to-prepare week-night meal and a recipe that you will surely return to over and over.

Cooking with Plantains
If you have never cooked with plantains, then you should certainly get to know this versatile ingredient.  This tropical fruit, a starchy type of banana,  also belongs to the genus Musaceae, as do regular bananas.  It is usually eaten cooked.  In fact, unless very, very ripe, a raw plantain can give you a stomach ache!

As a staple food in tropical regions throughout the world, plantains are listed as the tenth most important staple that feeds the world, after corn, wheat, rice, potatoes, cassava, soybeans, sweet potatoes, sorghum, and yams.  The unripe fruit, which is available year round in tropical climates,  can be cooked by steaming, boiling, or frying.  And because it is so readily available and cheap, it is particularly popular in developing countries with inadequate food storage, preservation and transportation.

To peel a plantain:  Because the skin is quite tough and thick, it is best to peel a plantain with a knife, after first cutting off the ends.  Cut the plantain into sections, then slit the peel vertically, and under running water, to avoid staining your hands, simply slip the skin off.  It is then ready to cook. If delaying the cooking, simply place the peeled fruit in salted water to keep it from discoloring

Which stage of ripeness should you choose?

Plantains can be used for cooking at any stage of ripeness:

  • Green--these are firm and starchy, resembling potatoes in flavor
  • Yellow--these are softer, yet still quite starchy, with a sweeter flavor
  • Yellow/black--these have a deep yellow pulp that is much sweeter than the green or yellow stages of ripeness and can even be used in desserts 
  • Very black--while many people shy away from a soft, black banana, this is the stage of ripeness for plantains that is sweetest and can be eaten raw (though I don't recommend it); it will always be somewhat starchy and not as sweet as a "dessert" banana
Fun Facts Mofongo and Plantains:
  • In Puerto Rica, mofongo is a fried plantain-based dish typically made with green plantains mashed together with broth, garlic, olive oil, and pork cracklings or bacon.  This version, whether filled with vegetables, meat, or seafood, is often served with a meat-, fish-, and/or chicken-based broth
  • In the Dominican Republic, mofongo is often called mangú
  • In Cuba, the dish is usually called fufu spellings vary) or fufu de platano
  • All of these versions have their origins in the African fufu (also called foufou, foutou, or fougou)
  • Although plantains are usually used to make mofongo, other starchy vegetables, such as cassava or bread fruit can be used
  • Plantains originated in India
  • The difference between the two terms "banana" and "plantain" is based on how the fruit is consumed, raw or cooked, as both belong to the same botanical genus
  • Plantains in this banana form should not be confused with the herb plantain, which bears no fruit at all, but is rather a weed whose leaves are used for wound healing and inflammation
  • The reason why plantains are cooked is that they contain much more starch and less sugar than regular dessert bananas
  • Plantains can be roasted whole in their skins
  • When green, they are always eaten cooked or fried, as in the fabulous Colombian dish patacones, which my friend Adriana prepares to perfection (she even puts strips of plantain in her sushi, which, believe it or not, works!)
  • When mature yellow-black plantains are fired, their sugars will caramelize
  • A plantain contains about 65% moisture as compared to a regular banana, which has about 83%
  • An average plantain has about 220 calories and is a good source of dietary fiber and potassium
  • In Central American and the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Honduras, and Jamaica) plantains are typically fried, boiled or added to soup
  • In Kerala, India, plantains are steamed and served as a popular breakfast food
  • In the West African country of Ghana, plantains are boiled and eaten with a cabbege or fish stew
  • In Nigeria, plantains are eaten boiled, fried, or roasted with one roasted version called boli eaten with palm oil or groundnut (peanut)
  • In Guatemala boiled, mashed plantains are often stuffed with sweetened black beeans and then deep fried
  • Plantains have been called the pasta and potatoes of the Caribbean, so versatile are they in their varied uses
  • In parts of the Caribbean plantains are often eaten mashed and served with fried eggs for breakfast
  • In the southern United States, particularly along the Gulf of Mexico, plantains are most often grilled
  • In Mexico fried plantains are often served alongside scrambled eggs mixed with black beans, as in huevos tirados, a favorite breakfast dish served at San Miguel's wonderful Parroquia Restaurant
  • In Peru, plantains are boiled and blended with water and sugar to make the drink called chapo
  • Because plantains can be cooked in much the same manner as potatoes, one of my favorite ways to serve them, especially as an accompaniment to one of the Mexican moles, is simply to boil peeled segments of yellow plantains with garlic (or add roasted garlic), mash them and sprinkle with chopped cilantro

Chicken Mofongo

Recipe:  Chicken Mofongo
Chicken Stew with Sweet Palntains)
(Adapted slightly from a Recipe by Melissa Clark and Eric Asimov for The New York Times)

3 pounds chicken parts, skin on
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chile powder
4 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
3 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest, plus the juice of 2 oranges (about 2/3 cup)
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest, plus the juice of 1/2 lime, more as needed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
2 large sweet, very ripe plantains (they should be black and yellow), peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup sliced pitted green olives
Chopped cilantro, for serving

In a small bowl mix the cumin, chile powder, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons oregano, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, the orange zest and lime zest.  Coat chicken with 1 tablespoon oil, rub the spice mixture into the chicken, cover, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add chicken pieces, skin side down.  Cook, in batches if necessary, until golden brown all over, about 10 minutes.  Transfer chicken to a bowl.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan.  Add plantains in a single layer, working in batches if necessary, and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes per side (add more oil to pan between batches if needed).  Transfer plantains to a bowl.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan.  Stir in onion, bell pepper, garlic and a pinch of salt.  Cook until vegetables are softened, 7 to 10 minutes.  Add remaining 1 teaspoon oregano and cook 1 minute.

Stir in tomatoes with their juices, orange juice, 1 cup water, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.  Return chicken and plantains to pot.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Cover and reduce heat to medium low.  Keep at a steady simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes.  Stir in olives and lime juice.  Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt or lime juice to taste.  Serve topped with cilantro (and rice!)

Chicken Mofongo

Parting Shot:

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tomatillos and Two All-Weather Salads

    Tangy Tomatillo and Sun-Dried Tomato Salad        Photograph by Zachary Popovsky zacharypopovsky.com

Tomatillos and Two All-Weather Salads
by Victoria Challancin

I feel almost guilty posting not one but two salad dishes while my northern neighbors are suffering from such extreme cold.  But we all need salads...all year round...and these two slightly different recipes are year-rounders, good any time.  

The first salad makes good use of Mexico's beloved tomatillo, or tomate verde, as it is called here in Mexico.  While the tomatillo is often roasted on a comal, a round griddle used on the stove or over an open fire, or even boiled, here it is used in its raw form, with bright, tangy results.

In the original recipe for the second salad, the romaine hearts are brushed with olive oil, then roasted in the oven until browned in spots, perfect for as a base for a cold-weather salad; however, because our weather is mild right now--and because of ease of preparation,  I served the romaine lettuce uncooked.

Tomatillo and Sun-Dried Tomato Salad

Recipe:  Tangy Tomatillo and Sun-Dried Tomato Salad
(Adapted slightly from a Recipe by Chef Daniel Orr for Food and Wine Magazine)

1 cup loosely packed drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1 1/2 pounds tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and cut into thin wedges
1 large jalapeño chile, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 small bunch purslane, tender stems and leaves only

Pat the sun-dried tomatoes with paper towels and coarsely chop them.

Transfer to a large bowl and add the tomatillos, jalapeño, ginger, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice and toss gently.

Season with salt and pepper and let stand for 15 minutes or for up to 4 hours.  Just before serving, add the cilantro and purslane, if using.

A Few Notes on Tomatillos
Let's blame it on the Spanish Conquistadors, shall we?  Blame them for what this time, you ask? That misnaming of a variety of Aztec-based words that they just might not have understood at the time.  In Nahuatl, that wonderful agglutinized language of the ancient Aztecs, the word tomatl simply referred to any plump fruit with xitomatl referring to regular red tomatoes and miltomatl referring to tomatillos. The Spanish, delighted with their new gastronomic finds,  simply returned with the term tomates, which is what they call red tomatoes in Spain today and with tomatillo, or "little tomato" to refer to tomatillos, the red tomato's little green cousins, or kissing cousins, as we like to say in the South, as they are only distant relatives.

What exactly are tomatillos?  Like tomatoes themselves, they belong to the larger family of Solanaceae or Nightshades, along with potatoes, eggplants, tobacco, mandrake, belladonna (are you seeing a connection with the "Deadly Nightshade" moniker yet?), chiles, and petunias, to name a few.  Breaking the family down a bit more, you find the genus "physalis" which includes gooseberries, ground cherries and tomatillos, all part of the kissing cousins of the Paper Lantern group, called this because some of them have papery cellulose husks which must be removed before eating.

Here in Mexico the names become even more confused.  Unlike the Spanish, Mexicans refer to their own red tomatoes as jitomates and tomatillos as tomates verdes (green tomatoes) or more commonly just tomates.  In all my years of teaching Mexican cooks, over 1000 of them, I have never heard them call this fruit "tomatillos," though they certainly know the word; they always just say "tomates."

While typically found green in markets, still nestled in their papery husks, other varieties also exist. My favorite are the walnut-sized purple ones, which are slightly sweeter and the very tiny green tomates de la milpa, or "tomatillos of the corn field", which are about the size of a blueberry.  When shopping for them, choose firm tomatillos that fill out the husk.  Remove the papery husk and scrub to remove the natural sticky substance beneath the husk before using.

Nutritionally speaking, the tomatillo is a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper, as well as being rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber as well.

Tangy, bright, tart, the tomatillo is a perfect fruit to add a bit of zing to any number of dishes.  The interior of the tomatillo is highly seeded, yet the seeds are not removed as they often are with tomatoes; in fact, you probably can't remove them due to the way they are structured.  Their tart lemony flavor lends itself beautifully to other Mexican ingredients such as avocado.

Too often merely relegated to the making of simple Mexican salsas, the tomatillo can be used in countless other ways.  Here are a few.

Uses for Tomatillos
  • Add them raw, sliced or chopped, to any green salad  (great with raw apples alongside)
  • Brighten raw vegetable soups such as gazpacho with a touch of raw tomatillos
  • Add the cooked or raw to guacamole
  • Use them instead of regular green tomatoes to make the Southern classic Fried Green Tomatoes and serve with a remoulade sauce or a chile-infused aioli
  • Make a Mexican salsa cruda with them (simply chop up about half a pound of cleaned tomatillos with a touch of garlic, hot chiles to taste, salt, and about a half cup of chopped cilantro, or coriander--if using a blender for a smooth sauce, simply add a couple of tablespoons of water).  Serve as a table sauce or condiment.
  • Make a Mexican cooked salsa verde with them (boil a pound of tomatillos, with five or six springs of cilantro, 1 or 2 peeled garlic cloves,  2 green onions, and salt for about five minutes, or until they have an slightly olive color, then puree the drained in a blender with one or two serrano chiles to taste--or broil them on a griddle or in the oven along with the garlic, onion, and chile).  Serve as a table condiment or use as a sauce with or without the addition of sour cream and/or avocado.
  • Make a vinaigrette (use the basic salsa cruda recipe above with the addition of one tablespoon of lime juice and 1/4 cup or more olive oil)
  • Stir fry in a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper, for an easy side dish
  • Add them, finely chopped, to a fruit salsa (kiwi, grape, melon, apple, pear, mango, pineapple)
  • Use them in soup wherever you might use regular red tomatoes
  • Make a tomatillo coulis  (see this recipe from epicurious for an interesting mixture of ingredients)
  • Make this recipe for Tomatillo Gazpacho with Feta-Olive Relish that I gave you in 2011
  • Make this recipe for Mexican Shrimp Cobb Salad with Creamy Cilantro-Tomatillo Dressing that I posted in 2012
  • Try this salsa using tomatillos, avocados, and the sprightly herb pápalo, which I wrote about here 
  • Serve this incredible sweet tomatillo sauce, which uses vanilla and piloncillo (unrefined sugar) over chocolate lava cakes (with chile!)
  • Add them to Ceviche
  • Make your next Bloody Mary with tomatillos
  • Make my recipe for Stacked Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas (a family favorite...so good, so good, so good) with a creamy tomatillo sauce
  • Add them to an Avocado-Cilantro Mousse, for an added bit of tang
  • Make a sort of Mexican Raita with yogurt, tomatillos, serrano chile, cilantro, and a touch of cumin or cumin seeds
  • Add tomatillos to any bean or meat chilli
   Romaine and Purslane Salad with Pine Nut Vinaigrette                       Photograph by zacharypopovsky.com

With not a tomatillo in sight, the following salad, with roasted or raw romaine hearts, is still a winner;

Cook's Notes:  The original recipe calls for roasted romaine lettuce, but I chose to serve it raw instead as a better fit with the menu.  I also substituted Parmigiano-Reggiano for the Manchego.  And I tossed in some purslane for added interest (I wrote about purslane here, where I paired it with an Allspice Vinaigrette).

Recipe:  Romaine and Purslane with Pine Nut Vinaigrette
(Adapted from a Recipe by Chef Pablo Montero for Food and Wine Magazine)
Serves 4

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and minced
1 tablespoon minced kalamata or other black imported olives
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing romaine, if roasting
2 large romaine hearts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Kosher salt
Shaved Pico Melero or Manchego (or Parmigiano-Reggiano) cheese, for serving 
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling

Make the vinaigrette:

In a medium bowl, whisk the vinegar with the sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and 1/4 cup olive oil.  

In a mortar, finely crush the toasted pine nuts.  Stir into the vinaigrette and lightly season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Assemble the salad:
Toss the salad with the vinaigrette.  Scatter the salad with the shaved cheese.  Sprinkle with additional flaky sea salt.

Parting Shot:  Christmas Poinsettia 
Thank you, Tom, for our beautiful Christmas flowers

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Curried Pear Soup with Sesame-Honey Yogurt Garnish

         Curried Pear Soup with Sesame-Honey Yogurt                              Photo by my son  Zachary Popovsky

                   Curried Pear Soup with 
             Sesame-Honey Yogurt Garnish
                                  by Victoria Challancin

I call this a bi-hemisphere soup.  Of course I am not referring to the hemispheres of the brain, but rather suggesting that this soup works perfectly for my Northern Hemisphere friends who are mainly snowed in right now, as well as my Southern Hemisphere friends who are basking in their balmy beginnings of summer. Served hot or cold, this tasty blending of sweet and savory flavors just works. It works at every possible level:  it smells divine, looks pretty, and tastes sublime. Subtle and deliciously nuanced, this soup is perfect for any weather.

In a recent class for Mexican cooks, we prepared this soup and served it hot.  I could tell that my students were looking askance at the recipe, not trusting it to come together in any sort of a pleasing way. Most of them have little experience with curry flavors, not understanding how beautifully they pair with not only savory dishes, but sweet ones as well.  What a surprise!  Across the board they loved the results.

When I was more of a purist than I have time to be today, I always made my own curry powder blends, changing them to suit different regional Indian dishes.  Sometimes, I still manage this, but often I just reach for Frontier Natural Product's Muchi Curry Powder, a premium-quality blend given to me by a loving friend.  Homemade or purchased, make certain to use a high-quality blend of spices--it will make all the difference in the flavor of your dish.
 Curried Pear Soup with Sesame-Honey Yogurt 

Cook's Notes:  If serving this soup cold, make sure to defat the chicken broth before adding it to the soup.
Recipe:  Curried Pear Soup with Sesame-Honey Yogurt Garnish
(Recipe from food.com)

1/3 cup unsalted butter
6 cups diced peeled pers
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups sliced leeks (white and light green parts only)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons high quality curry powder
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1 tablespoon liquid honey
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/3 cup plain yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste

To prepare the soup:  In a large saucepan melt butter and add diced pears, chopped onions, sliced leeks, and minced garlic.  Sauté for 2 minutes.  Add flour and curry powder and sauté until the pears become soft, about 5 minutes.

Stir in chicken broth and dry white wine.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the soup is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup--it will take about 2 to 3 minutes.  Or you can use a blender or food processor.

For the yogurt garnish:  Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Add sliced scallions and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes.  Add honey and sesame oil and cook for about one minute.

Remove from the heat and stir in plain yogurt.  Taste and adjust seasoning as desired with salt and pepper.  Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the yogurt garnish.

 Curried Pear Soup with Sesame-Honey Yogurt 

Parting Shot:
 Photo by my friend Jan Quinn

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!