Archive for ‘Chiles’

July 24, 2012

Despite the Heat | Tortilla Soup

Eating soup when it’s hot out can strike people as odd.  But think French-inspired Pho in steamy Vietnam, or British-influenced Mulligatawny in India.  There’s a point to eating something hot and spicy when it’s hot out: it makes you sweat (I glow).  And that helps you cool off.  So while it may seem counter-intuitive, now is certainly the season to give some spicy soup a go.

It’s always hot in Texas.  So it’s not surprising that tortilla soup is on just about every menu you peruse in San Antonio.   There’s something about it that San Antonians can’t seem to get enough of, no matter the season.   Perhaps it’s the mix of textures, but like Pho and Mulligatawny, it’s spicy and hot and a treat to eat.  (It also happens to the be the exact thing I was eating when Hades first fell in love with me fifteen years ago.  I even spilled it all over myself and he still loved me.  Magical stuff this is.)  And summertime is when the produce that comprises the bulk of the ingredients for tortilla soup are at their peak.

I like to play around with ingredients: if there’s corn, add some, if there’s not, no worries.  Zucchini and summer squashes work wonderfully, too.  Tomatoes, however are a requirement. 

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December 15, 2011

The Beautiful Bivalve | Mussels with Chorizo and Broken Fideo

In the Abode of the Dead they are known exclusively as moules, and, when served, Hades will eat them in breathtaking quantities.  They are mussels — tiny, meaty, sweet little jewels that are revered like no other ingredient in these parts.  I must admit, they are strangely beautiful.  Their black and pearly shells contrast with the orange-yellow flesh inside, and a full pan of these yawning bivalves is quite striking indeed.

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October 3, 2011

Local Foods Week | Curried Pumpkin

Local pumpkins are now prolific at farmer’s markets and my Whole Foods.  They are tasty, vitamin-packed treasures that are as versatile as you care to make them.  Add in some of the last of my backyard chilies and yellow cherry tomatoes, and you’ve got a dish that’s downright good for you.

Tonight I yearned for some Indian food and so I spiced up a leftover half of roasted pumpkin to accompany the fish I baked.  With the new addition of mustard oil to my pantry and now this dish, I even felt like I might be breaking some sort of law.  And after dinner there was a very distinctive warmth (not spicy heat) in my mouth that couldn’t be attributed to anything but that mustard oil.  Who says cooking is boring?

Curried Pumpkin, serves two hungry people, originally inspired by a dish by Aktar Islam of Lasan

2 t mustard oil (or grapeseed oil, or other oil with a fairly high smoking point)

1 t whole fennel seeds

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August 28, 2011

A Nomad’s Meal | Kicked Up Hatch Chili

It’s a short season.  They’re only really available at the tail end of August.  And I can see why people are obsessedFestivals and cooking competitions span New Mexico and beyond as fans of Hatch’s heat put them in everything from quesadillas to key lime pie.

Hatch chiles are meaty, flavorful green chiles with a skin that slips off easily after a deep roast over my stove’s gas burner cranked to high, and a quick steam in a bowl covered with cling film.  They freeze wonderfully well if you take care to roast them and remove the skins before you freeze them.  One word of warning: they get hotter the longer you freeze them.

I bought a pound of chiles and roasted some for a batch of chili.  After roasting and removing the skin and seeds, I pureed them with a few rehydrated dried chiles for some smoky depth.  I ended up with quite a nomad’s version of chili.

There are several tricks to great chili, the first being you should probably work to develop your own house style.  Start with a recipe that you love.  Use better than average meat: thinly sliced sirloin, cut into short ribbons works worlds away better than basic ground round.  Deeply browned meat and softened onions provide a good flavor base for the chiles and spices.  You are by no means stuck with beef: lamb and buffalo are great options as well.

Use a combination of chiles for the best flavor.  Today I soaked pasilla, ancho and chipotle chiles and blended these with the fresh roasted hatch and a little water for my own chile paste.  Extra paste freezes really well in ice cube trays.

In terms of spicing, think beyond chile powder and cumin to possibly include black cardamom pod (adds a great note of smokiness), a bit of paprika, tiny amounts of cinnamon and cloves, a sprinkling of ground coffee, a drizzle of molasses, apple cider or rice vinegar for balance.  Adding these seemingly exotic spices only deepens the complexities of the chili.  Chili is really not far off from a curry  — its just a matter of how you look at it.

Add in some local beer along with the water depending on where you live: Shiner Bock if you’re in Texas; a bottle of Columbus Brewing Company Pale Ale if you’re in Ohio.  If you choose to add beans, think of perhaps adding a dried bean mix.  Today I used Goya’s 16 bean mix.

By all means let this concoction simmer for several hours, covered to keep in the moisture.  This is a dish that develops over the day.  Keep your spices and seasonings handy as an hour into the cooking will taste much different than three hours into it.  Take your time and trust your palate.  Adjust, adjust, adjust.

Just before serving, you can add in a tablespoon or two of masa harina to thicken and add a bit more flavor.  Serve over rice, if you like.  I believe a Basmati for extra fragrance and interest does wonders.  But remember, there are no rules when you’re making the house recipe.

Playlist included Someday by Ceremony.

March 25, 2011

Persephone’s Cocina | Lamb Chili

This is as close to elegant as a bowl of chili can get – it’s more appropriate for date night than for game night.  The lamb mellows beautifully after some time on the stove, the texture is velvety and tender, and the flavor is at once comforting and surprising.  This recipe makes use of some bold and non-traditional spicing, and the payoff is extraordinary.  The black cardamom provides a smoky warmth, the fenugreek a little burnt maple.  Pair these with the traditional cumin, chili powder and coffee, and the result is wonderful.  Its stunning, brick-red color is worth making it alone.  It’s a refined chili with a faint, almost-Persian echo.  Serve it over tamales, with some homemade cornbread, or simply with some sour cream.  It’s easy, and it’s a star.

Chile de Cordero, Serves 2

2 strips bacon, chopped

1/2 pound ground lamb

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March 24, 2011

Persephone’s Cocina | Tamales

In San Antonio, tamales are an important tradition around major holidays leading to long lines at some of San Antonio’s favorite spots like Delicious Tamales and Ruben’s.  I had always considered them something that might be too much work on my part, but as it turns out, they’re really not as much as I thought they’d be.  Especially if you happen to have a few pinto beans leftover from a recent meal.

Last weekend’s trip to my favorite Mexican grocery store yielded dried corn husk wrappers and set me off on the wild idea to make a few for myself.  So this afternoon during Cherub’s “quiet time,” i.e., the thing you do when a preschooler no longer naps, I made tamales with refritos.  And because I used a recipe for the masa from Rick Bayless, which used a stand mixer (read: five minutes of work) and the beans were essentially already made, the tamales came together pretty quickly.  And while I’m not suggesting you make these on your own (have a sister or a friend around to gossip with while you do it on a Saturday afternoon), they are not the daunting delicacy that you might have presumed.

And for that pleasurable bit of work and chat, you are rewarded with a tender and ethereally light corn dumpling filled with smoky, spicy beans.  Truly, these are something that you need to be careful

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March 20, 2011

Sunday Breakfast | Huevos, Persephone Style

There’s something about Mexican food lately.  I’m just loving the spices and the fats and the flavors and the family feel of the meals.  This morning, since we had so many ingredients of Mexican origin in the fridge, I decided to do a take on huevos rancheros.  It’s not really rancheros; it’s just a delicious breakfast with spicy Mexican ingredients on a crispy tortilla, topped with a huevo.

I realize that this morning’s recipe is going to look a bit too involved.  But it has a couple of different simple components (the chile paste, the avocado crema) that you might consider making at some point and stashing in the freezer or have a bit leftover for a breakfast like this.

Huevos Persephone, serves two

Small link of Mexican chorizo, casing removed and sausage crumbled

1/4 of a small onion, diced

1 potato peeled and cut into small cubes

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