I have a theory about cilantro. Though it is well known that a distaste for the stuff has genetic foundations, I find it's not quite as cut and dried as that. Take dpaul (please! har.). The tiniest corner of a leaf in a huge bowl of pico de gallo will revolt him. Yet, one time we dined at a friend's house, and she served cilantro pesto as a dip for crudite. And he liked it.
So my theory goes: When cilantro is in something, it overpowers the palates of the haters. When cilantro is the thing, it simply stands on its own and paradoxically tastes less overwhelming.
I came to this deep, philosophical conclusion after going to Tequila last year. I was on a media junket to visit the Casa Noble tequila distillery, and once our group all arrived, we were shuttled off to the lovely and modern Guadalajara home of the distiller, Pepe Hermosillo (who later made me eat bugs.) As we settled into the airy patio, enjoying the balmy desert breezes, Pepe's wife Gina laid out some snacks for us while we got acquainted and, inevitably, drank tequila. One of the things was a vivid green mold, which elicited muffled yelps of pleasure as we took our first bites. Fresh, delicate and light, I knew this was something no one could not enjoy.
Later, one of the other journalists was able to extract the recipe from Gina, knowing that we all had to have it. Since then, I've made variations of it, and happily and proudly served it to cilantro lovers and haters alike. All have enjoyed it. You will, too.
The idea of a mousse is almost amusingly old-fashioned, a throwback to continental cuisine and things cased in aspic. Yet this mousse feels fresh and modern. It's great for Cinco de Mayo, of course, but I think really makes a great dish for all manner of summer entertaining. Tequila is optional, but highly recommended.
Adapted from Gina Hermosillo, who herself adapted it from Chef Iñaki of Goiti Restaurante
This recipe is enormously adaptable. Gina uses a combination of sour cream and cream cheese; Chef Iñaki's original recipe called for yogurt and mayonnaise, and no jalapeño. Dave Yan, marketing director for Casa Noble, uses goat cheese, and having tried that I can recommend it as well. Play with it, and find the balance you like.
1 packet unflavored gelatin * 1 cup plain yogurt (Greek yogurt if you like) 1 cup sour cream 1 jalapeño, seeds and veins removed, chopped 1 to 1-1/2 cups cilantro leaves, packed, stems removed ** 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt juice of 1/2 lime
Mix the gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water and let stand until it becomes spongy. Add another 1/4 cup warm water to turn it into a liquid.
Meanwhile, combine the yogurt, sour cream, jalapeño, cilantro leaves, lime juice and salt in a blender or food processor. Blend until fully integrated, then drizzle in the gelatin mixture while still blending.
Grease a mini loaf pan lightly with spray oil. Pour the mixture into the pan, cover with cling wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
To unmold the mousse, gently warm the sides of the pan by dipping it into hot water for a few seconds, dry, and invert. Serve with crackers or bread.
* It is theoretically possible to make this vegetarian by using agar, but I have not tested it myself.
** Plucking the leaves from the stems is tedious, but worth the effort, as they can be fibrous and mar the texture of the mousse.
Just for fun, our friend Kathleen hooked us up with a cooking class at Cocina Cosmopolita. She's taken classes there before with the proprietor, Coty Villareal, as well as other instructors. Last night we had a class on cocktails and appetizers with Chef Fernando Goñi Zapìan, owner of Camaron Caramelo (Av. 35 Esq. Calle 34). Who looks like this.
So, we were off to a good start.
The class comprised three pairings of cocktails and appies:
2 Tbsp turbinado sugar
12-14 fresh mint leaves
1/2 lime cut into quarters
1 oz. tequila reposado (or mescal)
1/2 oz. creme de cassis
Muddle the lime, mint leaves and sugar in the base of a Boston shaker.
Add the tequila, cassis and ice. Place the glass over and shake until well chilled.
Pour into a highball. Top with ginger ale.
Apricot jam with chipotle and goat cream cheese
80 g. Philadelphia cream cheese (yes, they have this in Mexico)
40 g. goat cheese
1/3 c. apricot jam
1-2 chipotles, finely chopped, or ~1 Tbsp adobo from the can
2 dried apricots, finely diced
Mix the jam and chipotle puree/adobo. Add more chipotle to taste. Mix in the apricot pieces.
In a separate container, mix the goat cheese and cream cheese.
On an oiled piece of aluminum foil, spread the cheese mixture into a 1/4" thick rectangle. Pour the jam mixture in a strip in the middle. Roll the foil over, as if you we're making sushi, to enclose the jam in the center of the roll.
Turn out onto a plate and garnish with mint leaves and chopped dried apricot. Serve with warm pita bread.
Here's the thing: It's hot in Mexico. So, our cream cheese was pretty loose and sticky, and didn't make neat, pretty rolls. For future iterations we would chill the cheese well before attempting to spread and roll it out. Or, better yet, line a narrow terrine with cling wrap, line on three sides with the cheese, fill with jam, and top with cheese. Chill the whole thing again before serving -- I think the combination of cool cheese and jam on the warm pita would be lovely.
1 large cucumber
2 oz. white rum
Juice of 1 lime
1 1/2 oz. simple syrup
1 Tbsp cilantro
1 tsp Miguelito (a sweet, red syrup kids use to dunk treats like Funyuns in)
1 tsp Tajìn (a mild spice mix used widely; Old Bay would be a reasonable substitute)
Cut the cucumber in half, and trim off 1/2" from the ends. Use a spoon or vegetable peeler to hollow out the cucumber to make a cut. Reserve the seeds.
Use a channel knife if desired to decorate the exterior of the cucumber cups. Dunk the rim of the cups in Miguelito, them rim with Tajìn.
Add the rum, lime juice, simple syrup, reserved cucumber seeds, cilantro and ice to a blender. Blend well.
Serve in the cucumber cups, garnished with a cilantro sprig.
Shrimp cocktail in a tamarind-orange sauce
150 g. shrimp, cooked
1/3 c. ketchup
3 Tbsp tamarind pulp, unsweetened
1/2 c. orange juice
1 tsp Tabasco
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 mango, finely chopped
1/3 seedless cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
1 Tbsp garlic oil (see below)
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper
Tostadas or crackers
Make the garlic oil: Fry 3-4 cloves finely chopped garlic in olive oil until just golden. Strain and cool. Discard the fried garlic.
In a bowl, mix the ketchup, tamarind pulp, orange juice, Tabasco, Worcestershire, garlic oil, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
Add the mango, cucumber, shrimp and cilantro.
Serve in a martini glass with avocado slices and tostadas.
We loved this combination. The Frozen Summer was cool and refreshing, and a nice foil to the sweet-tart sauce of the shrimp cocktail. Definitely a great summer pairing. Personally, I would amp up the spice in the sauce a bit.
Pear & rosemary martini
2 oz. vodka
2 stalks fresh rosemary
3/4 oz. simple syrup
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 pear, skin and core intact
Chill the martini glass.
In the base of a Boston shaker, muddle the pear, simple syrup, lime juice and vodka into a puree.
Add the rosemary and muddle again, just enough until you can smell the rosemary.
Add the top of the shaker and shake until well chilled. Strain into the martini glass and serve, garnished with a sprig of rosemary.
Lamb rosemary skewers with salsa borracha
For the lamb skewers:
150 g. lamb, cut into 3/4" cubes
1/2 zucchini, cut into 3/4" cubes
1/2 onion, cut into 3/4" squares
1 Tbsp finely minced garlic
1 Tbsp finely chopped rosemary
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Honey or agave syrup
Several long sprigs rosemary
Strip most of the leaves off the sprigs of rosemary, leaving some at the end. Chop the stripped leaves.
In a bowl, mix the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
Add the lamb, zucchini and garlic. Mix well, and let marinade for an hour.
Skewer the meat, zucchini, and onions on the rosemary sprigs, alternating as desired.
Heat a grill pan over medium heat. Drizzle the marinating oil onto the pan, and lay on the skewers. Drizzle or brush honey or agave over the skewers. Cook several minutes on each side, glazing each side, until the lamb is medium rare. Optional: look hot while doing this.
For the salsa borracha:
1 dried pasilla pepper
25 g. onion
1-2 cloves garlic
1/4 c. beer
1 Tbsp cilantro
Salt and pepper
Boil the tomatillos, onion, garlic and pepper until the tomatillos turn olive green and the pepper softens, about 10 minutes.
Move the tomatillos, garlic, onion and pepper to a blender. Add the beer and cilantro. Blend well.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a saucepan. Place over medium low heat and simmer until thickened, about five minutes.
Spread a couple tablespoons of the salsa on a plate, and lay the skewers over. Serve immediately.
Okay, this was the winning pair of the evening. We loved the rosemary and pear cocktail (and not just because it was the third one of the evening). And we learned that all our lives we had been using too-large cubes of meat and veg on our skewers. The salsa borracha is a keeper as well, though again I might have used a spicier pepper. This one is definitely going into our repertoire.
In observation of Mother's Day, here's a little something from the archives. Perhaps it's time to bottle and sell my mother's magic seasoning?
Emeril has his Essence™. Paul Prudhomme has his Magic™. My mother, too, has her own special seasoning. It's called Saltpeppergarlicsaltoregano™.
It's always the same four ingredients -- salt, pepper, garlic salt, oregano -- recited in the same run-on order, in more or less the same proportions, measured in the palm of the hand, and it works for everything. Sauce? Brown the meat, cook the garlic, add tomatoes and saltpeppergarlicsaltoregano. Salad dressing? Olive oil, red wine vinegar and saltpeppergarlicsaltoregano.
But here's the thing: Each of these things ends up tasting distinct and different. Perhaps there's a little Magic in my mother's seasoning after all.
A greater mystery, perhaps, is understanding why and how the dish called scallopine in my family in no way resembles scallopine as it is served in Italy or anywhere else on the globe. Traditional scallopine is a thin cutlet of meat, usually veal but sometimes chicken, dredged in flour, pan-fried and served with peperonata or some kind of sauce like piccata. In my family, it's cubes of meat, browned and then stewed in tomato puree with sautéed peppers and peas (and, of course, saltpeppergarlicsaltoregano).
What I do know is that it is good, and absolutely must be eaten with a piece or two of good, crusty Italian bread. I have yet to find a bread out here that resembles what was generically referred to as Italian bread in my hometown of Schenectady. It always had a flaky, crisp crust and a light, fluffy crumb. Out here on the west coast, there's a propensity for hardier, more rustic breads. A ciabatta or pugliese will do, but the fluffier the crumb, the better for sopping up all that good stew.
Somewhat recently, we went in with two other couples and invested in a lamb from Stemple Creek in Marin County. It's a great way to get farm-direct protein from a sustainable, grass-fed facility. It's also economical; our third of the share cost $93, and I think we ended up with almost 30 lbs of meat. I dutifully vacusealed all the various cuts (some more familiar than others) and stashed them in the freezer for consumption at our convenience.
Then, on recommendation from one of the friends in the lamb share, we joined Godfrey Family Farms' meat CSA. It's more of a mixed bag, with chickens, eggs, beef and what have you, depending on what they're harvesting at the moment. Our first shipment was earlier this month. Guess what was in it? More lamb.
Luckily, as you may already know, I love lamb and for that matter most nubile mammals. So it's no hardship for us to find ways to enjoy it.
But a recent addition to our lamb repertoire comes courtesy of our dear friend Kathleen. On our last visit with her, she pan-grilled up some lovely little chops and slathered over a salad of marinaded cucumber. It was a revelation. This condiment, simply a mix of thinly sliced cucumbers, finely chopped mint and seasoned rice vinegar, is a perfect foil. It contrasts the meat in every way: Cold versus hot; bright versus earthy; crisp versus chewy; herbal versus gamy.
Recipe? Um, sure, I guess. Just take a cuke or two of your choice (I used kirby, but Persians or English would work just fine), peeled or not, seeded if too seedy, and slice thinly with a mandoline (or by hand if you're Iron Chef material). Chop the heck out of a good fistful of mint -- more is more here. Mix in a bowl with several good shakes of seasoned rice vinegar. Adjust salt or sugar to taste, but it shouldn't need much. Let rest in the fridge until your succulent little chops are grilled and rested. Summerlicious!
Wanna know what else is summerlicious? A buncha my favorite food bloggers are having a little event called Summer Fest 2010. Each week, they'll take on one of the season's most bountiful ingredients; this week it's cukes and zukes. So here's my tip of the hat to them. Be sure to check out Caron's roundup post to see what everyone else is up to; there's some darn delicious food going on out there -- not least her own recipes for cucumber and radish confetti soup and zucchini pancakes. Yes, please.
Last week I took a brief trip to New York. One of my mother's cards had been nominated for a Louie Award at the Greeting Card Association's annual event, and since the whole raison d'être of her business stems from having a gay son, she wanted me with her at the ceremony. Sadly, she didn't win (frankly, the sentiment in the card she lost to is of questionable taste), but she still found value in attending the Stationery Show and connecting with peers in the industry.
While she was doing so, I used that time to do some connecting of my own. I shopped and sushied with my dear old friend Christine and brunched with my friend Ramona at the fabulous new B.E.S. I got to see the lovely Shuna, who opened her arms to me as a fledgling blogger four years nigh, and whom I've missed dearly since she relocated to London and New York. I enjoyed coffee and conversation with Lisa, who I met only fleetingly at BlogHer Food last year. And I finally met the inimitable and affable David Leite over quiche (him) and chocolate bouchons (me). All this in two days, including the awards ceremony.
It was definitely a whirlwind, and I often found myself hustling to get from one rendez-vous to another, but I did deliberately leave myself one opening. My flight arrived on Saturday at 4 pm, and I had nothing planned for the remainder of the afternoon until my mother arrived that evening.
New York was balmy and gently breezy, and I reveled in the summerlike weather as I meandered the streets of Chelsea. After a couple hours of aimless wandering, I began to set my sights on dinner. When the occasion warrants, I rather like dining out alone, and a tapas bar is optimal for that. Sitting alone at a two-top is sad, like dining with an imaginary friend. But sidling up to a bar, ordering a glass of spicy red and eyeing the sardines and cheeses? That's liberating.
So it was that I ended up at Boquería. First up I had a crisp duck croqueta and some lovely piquant sardine toasts, then followed up with pork belly pintxos and a salad called lágrimas -- "tears." The pork belly was cubed, dusted with paprika, wrapped in a wilted green, skewered and grilled until succulent. The salad, bright and fresh and crisp, made a flawless foil to the richness of those fatty blocks. It immediately became my New Favorite Salad, and I vowed to make it as soon as I got home. I did, and quite a few times since then already.
As for the name, I can only assume it's because the sliced pea pods look like eyes, and the peas themselves seem to tumble out like tears. But there is nothing sad about this salad. They must be tears of joy and gratitude for the bounty of spring that is finally upon us.