Siam red ruby sweet corn is once again showing up in the markets here in Chiang Mai. A real treat that reminds me of all the colorful native varieties of corn you find in markets all over Mexico. Yellow and blue corn are commonplace throughout the Americas these days, but there are as many as 60 colorful heirloom varieties of native Mexican corn that are still found in regional markets across the country. Unfortunately there is the looming threat of GMO conglomerates that are attempting to control seed distribution with exclusive patenting. This is a very contentious issue for farmers consumers alike globally that will hopefully be regulated and curtailed if heirloom seeds by right are to survive for future generations.
That said, having access to heirloom varieties of locally grown produce is every cooks ideal.
In this case I decided to make a simple salsa fresca that lets the crisp flavor and texture of the locally grown Siam Ruby Red sweetcorn shine while pairing beautifully with a variety of savory dishes.
Red Sweetcorn Salsa Fresca makes about 2 cups
- 2 ears red sweetcorn with husk intact (or other available variety)
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 cloves garlic, skin on
- 2 plump jalapeno chiles
- 2 vine ripe Roma tomatoes (or equal volume of ripe cherry tomatoes)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
- 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 teaspoon pure mild red chile powder or paprika
- 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
- 1 ½ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
I like to steam the corn undisturbed in the husk for about 15 minutes. The husk encasing the corn retains the flavor of the corn and softens the kernels just enough so that they still retain a crunch and bust with flavor when eaten.
I use a bamboo steamer, but any steaming arrangement will do. Cover and steam the corn for about 15 minutes, and then set aside to cool.
When the corn is cool enough to handle remove the husks and silk and discard. If you are using red corn you will notice some staining on your hands, but not to worry, the stains will wash off with soap and water.
With one hand holding the corn upright centered in a deep bowl, cut the kernels off the cob using a serrated knife in the other hand. The kernels tend to fly about, so the deeper the bowl the better for containing straying kernels.
Remove outer layer of the onion and cut into thick rounds. Place a dry skillet on the stove top over medium heat. Brush the onion rounds with a little oil and place in the skillet along with the garlic. Turn both the onions and the garlic and cook until the onions are nicely colored on both sides and the garlic has softened. Set aside to cool.
When the onions and garlic are cool enough to handle dice the onions. Peel off the skin of the garlic and mince, and place both in the bowl with the corn.
Trim the tops off the jalapenos and quarter them lengthwise. Remove the seeds and discard. Cut into thin strips, dice the strips, and add to the bowl with the other ingredients.
If using Roma tomatoes, cut them in half, cut out the core and discard. Slice into strips, dice, and add to the bowl with the other ingredients.
If Roma tomatoes are not vine ripe, as is likely during the winter months, use cherry tomatoes instead, which will have a sweeter fresh flavor. Simply quarter and halve the quarters.
Coarsely grind the toasted cumin seeds and add to the bowl. Add the sage and several tablespoons of lime juice and give the ingredients a good stir. Then add the red chile powder, chopped cilantro, and salt. Toss until all the ingredients are well combined.
Taste and add more salt and lime juice to taste. Finally add the olive oil and fold into the salsa.
Cover and refrigerate the salsa until ready to serve.
This salsa is ideal for tacos (as pictured), with grilled meat, fish, and poultry or as a garnish for soups, nachos, and of course with tostada chips along with your margaritas.
January always ushers in a welcome return to some semblance of normalcy after all the excesses of the holidays. Cooking everyday meals again somehow feels fresh and interesting with all kinds of new ideas floating around about how to turn ordinary meals into extraordinary meals.
Take for example the tuna casserole, a baked concoction topped with potato chips that was popularized back in the 50’s in America. The formula couldn’t be simpler. Canned tuna, a can of Campbell’s condensed mushroom soup, milk, cooked noodles, frozen peas, and grated cheese tossed into a casserole dish, topped with potato chips, and baked off in the oven. It was quick, easy, and cheap! That 50’s recipe has somehow managed to weather the test of time and has inspired endless reinterpretations along the way, including one of my own that follows.
What I propose is not the 30 minute tuna casserole of the 50’s. But with an investment of a few more ingredients and more time spent in the kitchen will produce, and I say this with complete confidence, a tuna casserole…extraordinaire. This is a tuna casserole you would be proud to serve for a dinner party.
Reinterpreting tried and true everyday recipes, especially over the long winter months, is both fun and productive. Just give your creative self free reign in the kitchen and turn those old standbys into some extraordinary meals that everyone is going to love!
Tuna Casserole…extraordinaire serves 4 to 6
As there are multiple components required I have arranged the recipe in an easy to follow step by step format.
- 1 head of broccoli, florets divided
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 F/ 220 C
Place the broccoli florets and garlic in a bowl, drizzle with the olive oil, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Toss until the ingredients are evenly coated with oil and transfer to a baking sheet in a single layer. Place in the oven and roast until the broccoli is tender and nicely colored, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- 1 jalapeno chile
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 onion, peeled and halved
Roast the jalapeno, red pepper, and the halved onion over an open flame on the stove top or grill until all are evenly charred. Transfer the jalapeno and red bell pepper to a bowl, seal with cling film, and set aside to sweat. Once cool slip off the charred skins and discard. Open both lengthwise, remove the seeds, and cut into thin strips. Reserve several strips of red pepper for garnishing, as pictured, and dice the remaining strips and set aside.
Remove the charred outer layer of the onion halves and discard. Dice the onions and set aside.
- 6 medium sized white button mushrooms (or 10 smaller shiitake), thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ cup white wine
- salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a medium size saute pan set over medium heat. Swirl in the olive oil and add the sliced mushrooms and reserved roasted diced onions. Saute until the mushrooms have wilted, given up their liquid, and are just beginning to color. Season lightly with salt and pepper and toss.
Once most of the liquid in the pan has evaporated add the wine and turn up the heat. Saute until the wine has evaporated and the mushrooms are tender and nicely colored. Set aside to cool.
Step 4: For the sauce mornay:
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 ½ cups whole milk, heated
- 2 strips lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ cup grated pecorino cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a saucepan and when bubbling add the flour. Stir continuously for about 2 minutes. Then begin slowly adding the heated milk while continuing to stir. Once all the milk has been added toss in the the lemon zest and continue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Adjust the heat to a gentle boil and cook, stirring continuously as the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the thyme and grated pecarino. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside. Remove the lemon zest before adding the sauce to the casserole.
- 1/2 cup dry macaroni noodles
- 1 tablespoon salt
Bring a pot of water to a rolling broil and add the salt. Add the noodles and stir. Boil the noodles until al dente. Strain and set the noodles aside until you are ready to assemble the casserole.
Step 6: For the bread crumb topping:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup bread crumbs or panko
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Melt the butter in a medium saute pan and when bubbling add the bread crumbs and saute until the butter is absorbed and the crumbs are lightly browned. Season with salt, toss, and Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C with the rack in the middle position.
Prepare a buttered casserole dish large enough to hold all the ingredients.
Assembling the casserole:
- 1 can of well drained tuna
- reserved red bell pepper strips for garnishing the top of the casserole as pictured
In a large bowl combine the roasted broccoli florets, the diced roasted jalapenos and bell peppers , the mushroom onion mixture, cooked noodles, and the tuna. Toss until well combined. Then add several ladles full of the sauce and toss until all the ingredients are evenly coated with the sauce.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish. Even out the contents in the dish and ladle sauce over all, jiggling the dish so the sauce fills the dish evenly to within a half inch of the top of the casserole dish. Distribute the bread crumbs evenly over the surface and garnish with the reserved red pepper strips.
Transfer the casserole to the oven. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the bread crumbs are nicely browned.
Serve straight out of the oven! A beautiful simple mixed greens salad pairs well with this casserole and rounds out the meal perfectly!
The holidays have arrived and, like myself, you are probably finalizing menus and about to dash off to the local farmers market, the grocery store, and your local delicatessen with shopping list in hand. Tis the season for home cooks to go into overdrive and, once again, manage to put a noteworthy holiday feast on the table with a certain air of relaxed aplomb.
Christmas in Buddhist Thailand is a non event other than retail of course. So every year rather than cooking a traditional western Christmas dinner I gravitate towards a meal drawn from another culture. This year I am doing a Mexican Christmas supper beginning with a Sopa de lima from the Yucatan (click here). Following that a succulent Barbacoa (click here) from central Mexico along with frijoles refritos (click here) and a spicy slaw with apples and avocados. For dessert I’ve come up with a recipe for Mexican Chocolate Lava Cookies that will be served with cinnamon ice cream drizzled with caramel sauce. Cocoa is native to Mexico and often combined with cinnamon and, yes, chile in both savoy and sweet dishes that date back to the Aztecs. The soft chocolate “lava” chunks in these cookies are a reference to the active volcanoes that dot the landscape in central Mexico, and the caramel sauce is a nod to the Spanish influence in Mexico’s evolving cuisine.
I have adapted this recipe from a recipe by Jacques Torres for his now famous chocolate chip cookies that forever changed the conversation about what the best chocolate chip cookie should be.
There may be just enough time left to add these cookies to your holiday preparations, but if not do try them first thing in the new year!
Mexican Chocolate Lava Cookies makes 24
- ½ cup pecans (or walnuts) lightly toasted
- 4 ½ ounces cake flour
- 4 ½ ounce bread flour
- 5 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
- ½ cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder ( New Mexican)
- 1 extra large egg
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 10 ounces dark chocolate (best quality), chopped into chunky shards
- crystallized salt (Maldon)
Ideally make the cookie dough 24 hours before baking.
Preheat the oven to 325 F/ 160 C with the baking rack set in the middle position.
Spread out nuts in a single layer in a baking tray and toast them in the oven until they are fragrant, about 10 minutes. Remove the nuts from the oven, set them aside to cool, and turn off the oven. When cool break the nuts up by hand and set aside.
Combine the cake flour and bread flour in large mixing bowl and stir to combine.
Combine the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nut meg, allspice, and red chile powder in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and cream at medium high speed for 5 minutes or until the mixture is a light color and fluffy in texture.
Add the egg and mix on medium speed until the egg is completely incorporated into the dough. Add the vanilla and mix to incorporate.
Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture and mix until the flour is completely mixed into the dough.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the chocolate and nuts and, using a silicone spatula, mix until combined.
Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C with the baking rack set in the middle position. Set up 2 cooling racks.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and, using a scale divide the dough into 1 ½ ounce portions. Roll the portions into balls between the palms of your hands.
For best results, baking one tray of 6 cookies at a time will deliver the best results. Refrigerate the remaining balls of dough until you are ready to bake them.
Place 6 balls of dough on the tray with plenty of space between them. Top each ball with a light sprinkle of crystallized salt, patting the top lightly so the salt sticks to the surface. Transfer them to the oven and bake for 6 minutes. Open the oven and rotate the tray from front to back and bake another 6 minutes.
The cookies should be just slightly golden but still very soft while not looking overly moist on the middle of the top of the cookie. You do not want to over bake these cookies so their texture will remain soft, the chocolate still holding its shape, once the cookies are cool.
When done remove promptly from the oven and place the tray on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Then gently remove the cookies from the baking sheet and place them directly on a cooling rack.
Repeat the same process for the remaining cookies.
When the cookies are nearly cool you can serve them at once while still slightly warm.
Otherwise let the cookies cool completely and then store in a large cookie tin with the cookies stacked in just 2 layers.
As mentioned these cookies are ideal served with cinnamon ice cream. The caramel sauce is optional, but it does make a very special taste of Mexico.
I can’t think of any dish more satisfying than a steaming bowl of earthy chili when winter’s grip bears down in earnest. Not that that happens here in Thailand, but vivid memories of winter’s bite are forever embedded in my psyche none the less. Chili’s colorful cultural past adds an almost palatable celebratory air that makes it an ideal choice for those informal holidays meals that lie ahead. Chili does freeze beautifully so why not get a head start and have chili essentially ready on demand.
Whenever I sit down to write about chiles there is that lingering conundrum about spelling and usage of the words that always comes to mind. When to use Chile and when to use Chili? Having lived among both Spanish and Mexican communities in the American Southwest and in Los Angeles for some time I have have sorted out the usage, but there are still ongoing heated debates about the correct spelling, definition, and usage of the words chile and chili.
In short chile is the Spanish word for all varieties of peppers (capsicums) that they discovered when they arrived in the new world. In Mexico however the word chili stems from the Nahuatl/ Aztec language dating back to at least the 7th century which describes the plants that produce all varieties chilis (capsicums).
Of course today both words have garnered various meanings not only for the peppers themselves but also for dishes that are made with them.
For example, in the North American southwest the word chile is used to describe varieties of capsicums associated with various levels of scoville heat as well as dishes made with the them. In the rest of North America the word chili (chili con carne) describes the popular spicy Tex Mex stew like dish that contains ground meat in a chile and tomato based sauce that often includes beans. South of the border chili con Carne is a chunky meat stew in a spicy chili based sauce without the addition of beans.
Confused? Just to make the differentiation even a little more complicated the Nahuatl language is still widely used in rural central Mexico as is the word chili. So in Mexican communities living on both sides of the border use both words interchangeably.
Generally speaking, it is safe to say that chile is the appropriate word to reference all varieties of capsicums with heat. Chili is reserved for describing the popular dish chili con carne as well as the seasoning mixture of ground dried chile powder mixed with other seasoning spices. Pure ground chiles without other seasonings would be called chile powder.
For more tasty information on this spicy subject (click here) for Chili (Basics).
The recipe that follows more closely follows a Mexican chili con carne that includes dried chiles to deeply flavor the sauce. However I have used ground beef instead of chunks of beef, and included beans in the chili which are served separately in Mexico. For me, including the beans in the chili makes a more complex and richly flavorsome Mexican meal in a single bowl. But maybe I’m just biased having grown up eating Tex Mex chile.
Chili con Carne serves 6
- 12 dried guajillo chiles, split lengthwise, seeds removed
- 1 or 2 dried chipotle chiles (or canned chipotles in adobo)
- 6 garlic cloves, skin on
- 3 tablespoons lard or cold pressed peanut oil
- 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons toasted cumin seeds, ground
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano (Mexican if available)
- 4 vine ripe tomatoes (or canned Italian plum tomatoes)
- 2 pounds ground beef
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon pure ground red chile powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt + more to taste
- 1 quart beef or chicken stock + more as needed, preheated
- 2 cups cooked beans (pinto, kidney, or black)
- salsa fresca
- crema or sour cream
- warm corn and flour tortillas
Warm a heavy bottom skillet over medium heat. Place the guahillo chiles in the skillet. Using a spatula press the chiles against the bottom of he pan. Let them toast for a minute or so and then flip them over, again pressing them against the bottom of the skillet and toasting another minute. Remove them and set them aside to cool briefly. Then remove the stems, tear the chiles into pieces, and place them in a sauce pan. Add the whole dried chipotle chiles and add just enough water to cover all the chiles and place the pan over low heat. Bring to a low simmer and cook until the chiles are soft and pliable, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. Remove the stems from the chipotle chiles and transfer all the chiles to a blender jar and add enough cooking liquid to cover. Reserve the remaining cooking liquid to use later as needed,
Using the same skillet toast the unpeeled garlic cloves until they are lightly colored on all sides. Remove them and set them aside to cool. Then peel off the skin, mince the garlic, and set aside.
Add 1 tablespoons lard or oil to the skillet. When the oil is hot add the onions and saute until they are soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the chopped garlic, ground cumin, and oregano and saute another couple of minute. Then transfer the contents of the pan to the blender jar.
Add 1 tablespoons of the lard or oil to the same skillet set over medium heat. When hot add the tomatoes (fresh or canned) and fry them until they are soft and lightly caramelized. Break them up and continue to cook until very soft. Then transfer them to the blender jar including the juices.
Add enough reserved chile liquid to to fill the blender jar to about half full. Begin pulsing until the ingredients are broken down and then increase the speed to high until the mixture is very smooth. If it is very thick thin with the remaining reserved chile liquid or stock.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of lard or oil in a soup or stock pot set over medium heat. When hot add the ground beef and cook until the meat is evenly browned, stirring from time to time. Add the clove, bay leaves, cocoa powder, red chile powder, and salt. Stir until well combined. Then pour in the hot stock and stir. When the contents reach a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
Add the beans and continue to cook another 30 minutes. The consistency of the chili should be very thick, but add a little stock to thin it out a bit if needed. Taste and add additional salt to taste. Skim off excess fat floating on the surface of the chili and discard.
At this point the chili is ready to serve. Otherwise transfer the chili to containers and cool to room temperature before covering and refrigerating or freezing.
This chili is so rich and flavorsome it needs very little embellishment other than a dollop of sala fresca and a swirl of sour cream or crema with each serving. Be sure to have a basket full of warm corn and flour tortillas and a bowl of salasa fresca placed on the table.
Crema is a Mexican sour cream that you can make by simply stirring a small amount of whole milk into a bowl of sour cream.