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Roasted Sweet Potato Salsa

16 May

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Foods can oftentimes lead double lives. A cake can masquerade as a bread (there are many instances of this), a breakfast can go undercover as a dessert, or vice versa, and a salsa can brand itself as such, when, in actuality, what it really happens to be is a salad. A hearty, healthy, super satisfying salad.

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The ever-changing identity of this salsa is, I think, one of its best attributes. Introduced to me by my sister-in-law, one of the first things I remember thinking about this salsa was, “I want to smear this on some bread and pile arugula on top of it.” I often think things like this, which is what, I assume separates me from people who just eat food that tastes good and then leave it at that. Sometimes I see food and immediately want to turn it into different food, but not because I think the original incarnation of that food is in any way bad. On the contrary, I am driven to play around with said food because it is so delicious, so multifaceted, that I think it should be given the chance to shine in every way possible.

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A salsa like this, hearty with savory roasted sweet potatoes and onions, can be moved in several directions. With chunks of fresh avocado and tomato, it certainly works as an appetizer to be scooped up by tortilla chip, but, piled on top of a bed of greens, it would also make a great salad. You can fold in some black beans and take it to a potluck as a summer salad to share. You can, as I mentioned before, slather it on lightly toasted bread and top it with some arugula and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Of course, you can also eat it as is, with no tortilla chips, which is what I initially did after mixing it together, taking a taste, then discovering that I was finding it difficult to stop tasting. Because even though this salsa makes a great starting point for many different dishes, it also happens to be pretty darn fantastic on its own.

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Last Year: Mexican Chocolate Zucchini Muffins and Spicy Ginger Garlic Potatoes and My Favorite Raita

Roasted Sweet Potato Salsa

Adapted from an Everyday Food recipe shared by my sister-in-law

1 large sweet potato (about 1 pound), peeled and diced into small chunks

1 medium red onion, diced into small chunks

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium tomato, diced into small chunks

1 medium avocado, diced into small chunks

1 small jalapeno pepper, finely diced, ribs and seeds removed it you want to tone down the spice. Alternately, you can just add 1/8-¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes if you don’t have a jalapeno pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

¼ cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes)

sea salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. On a large baking sheet, toss together the sweet potato chunks, diced red onion, and olive oil. Roast in the center of the oven until the sweet potato is tender and browned in spots, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool completely.

When sweet potato mixture has cooled, add tomato, avocado, jalapeno or red pepper flakes, cilantro, and lime juice. Season with salt and toss to combine.

Makes about 4 cups of salsa.

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Grilled Pineapple and Jalapeño Salsa

9 Jul

This recipe was sort of an accident.  Have you ever started thinking about something or doing something and then, the more you thought about or continued to do that thing, the more entrenched you became in the very specifics of that thing?  (I sincerely hope I am not the only person who possesses this particular trait…though I would not be at all surprised if I was).  Well, that’s what happened with this salsa.

It started out so innocently.  I found some lovely fresh pineapple at the market.  When I got the pineapple home, I decided that I would eat it with my lunch.  Then I decided that I would have some grilled fish for lunch.  Then I decided that I would put the pineapple on the grilled fish.  Wait, no.  I would make a pineapple salsa, because I also had an aging jalapeño on hand that I wanted to use up.  Hold on—if I am going to be grilling some fish, why not also grill the pineapple?  Grilled pineapple is wonderful.  I’ll do that.

I wonder what would happen if I also grilled the jalapeño?  And these onions?  Hey, look—I just spotted the bread on the counter and, man, doesn’t a sandwich sound great right about now?  I know, I’ll grill everything!  Fish, pineapple, jalapeño, onions, bread—everything!

And do you know that?  I don’t think I have ever benefitted so much from a thought process that was not so much a process as it was a series of linked ideas that, lucky for both you and me, totally worked out.  Obviously, this worked out for me because I had a phenomenal lunch that day.  It works out for all of you, because now you too can have the same phenomenal lunch that I did, only you’ll have a much better idea of how things are going to turn out.  They are going to turn out to be delicious, I promise you.

Last Year: Indian Spiced Smoked Spareribs

Grilled Pineapple and Jalapeño Salsa Recipe

1 or 2 fresh jalapeños (depending on how spicy you want your salsa, though I find that grilling the jalapeños greatly tempers their heat—I used 1 jalapeño, but I wished I had used 2), sliced in half lengthwise, seeds and ribs removed (or, for even more heat, set aside the seeds and add them in later when everything gets mixed in together)

¼ of a red onion, separated into layers

10 ounces fresh pineapple, sliced into long strips

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

juice of ½ a lime

salt to taste

Heat an outdoor grill or a stovetop grill pan over medium high heat.  Lightly oil grates.  When grill or grill pan is heated, place onion layers and sliced jalepano on grill.  Grill until the onions are soft and sweet and the jalapenos are just starting to turn dark at the edges, about 5 minutes, turning once.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Place pineapple strips on the grill, and grill until just starting to caramelize, about 3 minutes per side.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Allow all three ingredients to cool to room temperature.

When cooled, finely dice both onion and jalapeno.  Dice pineapple in to ½-inch chunks.  Combine in a medium bowl, along with cilantro, lime juice, and salt.  Toss everything to combine, and add more lime juice and salt as you see fit.

To make a grilled tuna steak sandwich to accompany your salsa, heat your grill over high heat.  Oil the grates.  Take 1 large tuna steak and cut it in half horizontally, making two thinner tuna steaks.  Season both sides of each steak with salt and pepper.  Place tuna steaks on oiled grill and grill until the very middle of each steak is still pink, about 1 minute per side.  As you cook your tuna steak, you will see the color change, becoming paler as it moves up the steak.  When you grill the first side, you will know to flip the steak over when the pale color has moved about halfway up the steak.  After you flip the steak it will only take another 60 seconds or so to finish cooking the steak.  The fish will continue to cook a bit after you remove it from the grill.

To assemble a sandwich, place a grilled tuna steak on a piece of grilled or toasted bread.  Top with slices of avocado, a large scoop of salsa, then place another piece of grilled or toasted bread on top.  Slice in half for easier eating.  So delicious.

Salsa Roja

17 Nov

Do you ever get into a cooking rhythm that leads you in one direction, and one direction only?  Like, say, south, to Mexico?  And all you want to cook are luscious sauces, flavorful side dishes, and a variety of salsas?  Yeah, I’ve been there.  I am there.  All I want to eat is Mexican food, all the time, every single day.  And with a couple of incredible Mexican food cookbooks at my disposal, this little habit of mine could go on for quite some time

This salsa is a direct recipe from Rick Bayless, he of the encyclopedic knowledge of all things related to the cuisines of Mexico.  So embroiled in the specifics of the foods is Bayless, I admit that I am actually somewhat intimidated by a large chunk of his recipes.  I have to roast that thing for how long?  And then find fat from what animal?  And do WHAT with it?  That’s the part where I close the book and walk away, wondering for the tenth time that week if it’s possible to actually hurt yourself by eating too many corn tortillas.

Now that I have thoroughly scared you away from Mr. Bayless, allow me to attempt to reel you back in.  Not all the recipes in his books are head-spinningly complex.  Bayless, though unfailing in his ability to bring authentic Mexican foods to the American masses, is also a great source for recipes that are simple, straightforward, and utterly delicious.  His salsa roja (red chile and tomatillo salsa) is one of my favorite basic salsa recipes, and it’s a great addition to anyone’s Mexican cooking repertoire.  Last year I used this salsa to flavor some flank steak for my husband’s birthday dinner, and it was a mighty fine success.  Paired with some slices of crisp red peppers and cool, creamy avocado, it made tacos that were deemed some of the best to ever cross one’s plate.

Slowly and steadily, with this salsa as my entry point, I plan on tackling more of Bayless’ catalog.  Perhaps I’ll baby-step my way there, sitting calmly at my dining room table while I peruse some books and eat this salsa.

Salsa Roja (Red Chile and Tomatillo Salsa)

From Mexico One Plate at a Time, by Rick Bayless

You can use any variety of small hot dried chile in the recipe.  I used dried chipotle peppers, since I happened to have some on hand.  Bayless specifies that you can also use cascabel, arbol, piquin, and many others.  If you don’t have a kitchen scale, Bayless helpfully mentions that ½ ounce of dried chiles corresponds to 6 red chipotles, 4 tan chipotles, 16 arbols, 3 cascabels, or ¼ cup piquin.

½ ounce small hot dried chiles, stemmed

6 large garlic cloves, unpeeled

1 pound tomatillos (about 10-12 medium), husked and rinsed

½ to 1 teaspoon salt

about ½ teaspoon sugar (optional)

In an ungreased skillet set over medium heat, toast the chiles, stirring for a minute until they are aromatic and start to develop little darkened spots on them.  Transfer to a bowl, cover with very hot water, and rehydrate the chiles for 30 minutes.

In the same skillet, roast the garlic, turning frequently, until soft and blackened in places, about 15 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly, then remove the papery skins.

Roast the tomatillos on a baking sheet set 4 inches below a very hot broiler.  Roast until the tomatillos are soft and slightly blackened, about 5 minutes on each side.  Cool the tomatillos, then transfer them, along with any juices that were released during the roasting process, into a blender or food processor.

Drain the chiles and add them to the tomatillos, along with the garlic.  Puree, then pour into a serving dish.  Stir in enough hot water to give the salsa a spoonable consistency, about ¼ cup.  Add salt to taste, then, if desired, add in a small amount of sugar (I never add the sugar, but I like the tartness of tomatillos).

Salsa will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

Makes about 1 ¾ cups.

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