hai Basil Cashew Dressing

Thai Basil Cashew Dressing

 

The combined flavors of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and bitter is what makes Thai food taste so fresh and irresistible, especially here in the tropics where temperatures really soar during the hot season. There is nothing more refreshing than a sweet, sour, salty and spicy Thai papaya salad (som Tam) or a pomelo salad (yam som O) (click here for recipe) to beat the heat. Thai salads inspire a whole new approach salad making in general.

That said the recipe that follows is for a dressing, or sauce if you will, that uses the five pillars of Thai flavors in an east west vinaigrette. Ideal for fresh greens salads, cold noodles, sates, or even western style “wrap” sandwiches.

 

Thai Basil Cashew Dressing/Sauce     Makes 1 cup

  • 1 cup Thai sweet basil leaves, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 shallot, peeled and finely diced
  • ½ cup raw cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice + more to taste as needed
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla) 
  • 2 teaspoons palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
  • 4 tablespoons light vegetable oil
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons cold water
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped Serrano or jalapeno chilies
  • 3 teaspoons thinly sliced red Thai chilies including seeds
  • ¼ cup fresh coriander leaves

Place the basil leaves, minced garlic, minced shallots, chopped cashews, and 4 tablespoons of lime juice in the work bowl of a food processor.

Place the fish sauce, palm sugar, and a little water in a small pan set over low heat. Heat just until the sugar is melted and then add the mixture to the other ingredients in the food processor. Pulse the processor until the ingredients are broken down, scraping down the sides of the work bowl several times until the mixture resembles a coarse paste. Then, with the processor running add the vegetable oil through the feed tube in a slow steady stream until the mixture is emulsified with an even, somewhat thick texture. Then with the processor running add the salt and the cold water in a slow steady stream through the feed tube until the texture has thinned out somewhat but still stiff.

Add the chopped green serrano or jalapeno chilies, the sliced Thai red chilies, and the coriander leaves to the work bowl. Cover, and pulse several times to just mix those ingredients into the dressing/ sauce without chopping them up.

Stop the processor and taste the sauce and add more salt and/or lime juice if needed.

Transfer the dressing/sauce to a non-reactive container and refrigerate until serving time.

opa de Lima rom the Yucatan

Sopa de Lima rom the Yucatan

This is certainly one of the Yuctan’s most unique contributions to the world of Mexican cuisine. The Mayan version of tortilla soup that includes two unique ingredients from the Yucatan peninsula, citrus limetta (limon dulce) and habanero chilies. Citron Limetta is neither a lemon nor a lime as we know them, but an aromatic mildly tart lemon lime like citrus fruit with a mild tropical aromatic sweetness native to the Yucatan. The habanero chile is considered one of the hottest chilies in the world and the Yucatan’s most important agricultural export. The flavor has a hint of fruitiness as well as a heat delivery that is unrivaled. Alas, both of these ingredients will be hard to find unless you are lucky enough to have a Central American grocer where you live.

Citrus Limetta & Habanero Chile

Citrus Limetta & Habanero Chile

But not to worry, the best substitute for citrus limetta is either using Meyer lemons or Florida Key limes. Their juice  mixed with a dash of Seville orange juice nearly replicates the flavor of citron limetta. In a pinch,  using lemons or limes with a dash of orange juice  will be just fine.

Likewise, the best substitute for the habanero chile is replacing it with 3 or 4 small red Thai thin skinned chiles.

Sopa de Lima is uniquely flavored with spices that have been used in the local cuisine dating back to the early Mayan culture. There are versions of Sopa de Lima found throughout Mexico, but once you have tasted the Yucatecan version you will appreciate the subtlety of this refreshing tropical soup that cools you down in the hot and humid climate of the Yucatan or warms you in the middle of winter further north. A visit to this lush tropical peninsula that sits between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea lulls you into slowing down and letting the Mayan cultures of the past as well as the present wash over you. Merida is a beautiful colonial town where you can easily fall into the rhythm of the local’s lifestyle and enjoy some of the most beautiful markets and delicious foods in all of Mexico.

 

Sopa de Lima     serves 4

ingredients:

  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, roasted, peeled, and chopped
  • roots of 3 cilantro stalks, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves, lightly toasted
  • 8 whole peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves, lightly toasted
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 inch piece cinnamon bark (canella)
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt + more as needed
  • 10 cups water plus more if needed
  • 1 pound/450g chicken breasts (or turkey breast), skinless and boneless
  • 8oz/225g chicken livers (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons lard or vegetable oil
  • 1 red onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 sweet green bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, thinly sliced into strips and halved
  • 1 habanero chile, minced (or  4 small thin skinned Thai red chillies, minced)
  • 2 vine ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and diced
  • 4 citrus limetta (or alternatives as mentioned above)
  • 6 corn tortillas, cut into thin strips
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup finely chopped serrano or jalapeno chilies, including seeds
  • 2 ripe Haas avocados, sliced
  • a handful of fresh cilantro leaves

To make the broth, place onions, roasted garlic cloves, cilantro roots, marjoram, peppercorns, bay leaves, whole cloves, cinnamon bark, allspice berries, sea salt, and water in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Then add the chicken breasts (or turkey breast which is a local favorite) and lower the heat to a simmer and poach for 20 to 30 minutes. Timing will depend on the size of the breasts. As soon as the breast are tender remove them from the broth and set aside to cool. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle pull the flesh apart into pieces and set aside.

While the breasts are poaching you can cook the chicken livers. Rinse the livers and place them in a small sauce pan. Ladle in just enough broth from the stock pot to cover the livers and bring to a simmer. Cook about 8 to 10 minutes only. Using a slotted spoon transfer the livers to a bowl and set aside. Pour the broth back into the stock pot. When the livers are cool cut them into a fine dice and set aside.

Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the broth into a large bowl. Discard the solids left in the strainer and return the strained broth to a cleaned stock pot and set it back on the stove over very low heat.

To make the soffrito place the lard or vegetable oil in a  skillet placed over medium heat. When hot add the onions, garlic, bell peppers, habanero chile or (Thai chiles), and a pinch of salt. Saute for 8 to 10 minutes or until the vegetables are wilted and very soft without browning.

Meanwhile blanche the tomatoes in boiling water for 45 seconds or until the skin begins to split. Promptly remove the tomatoes and set aside to cool a couple of minutes. Then slip of the skin off and discard. Quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds and core and discard. Finely dice the tomatoes and place them in a bowl along with juices.

Then stir the diced tomatoes into the soffrito and cook a couple more minutes. Then transfer the mixture to the broth in the stock pot and bring back to to a simmer. Continue simmering the soup for about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Meanwhile juice 2 of the citrus limetta and thinly slice the 2 remaining and set aside.

In a small saucepan heat the vegetable oil for frying the tortilla strips. When the oil is hot add the strips a fry until golden, about 45 seconds. Set the fried tortilla strips on paper towels and set aside.

When you are nearly ready to serve add the pulled chicken and the chicken livers (if using) to the simmering soup and cook another couple of minutes.

Serving:

Best to serve the soup in individual bowls as pictured above. Have all of the finishing condiments ready and within reach.

Just before serving add the citrus limetta juice to the soup and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Ladle portions of the hot soup into each bowl and tuck several slices of citrus limetta into the soup. Put the remaining sliced limetta in a small bowl to serve along with the soup at the table.

Place 3 slices of fresh avocado over each serving and top with tortilla strips. Scatter some  serrano or jalapeno chilies and fresh cilantro leaves over each serving and serve promptly! Serve with the remaining serrano or jalapeno chilies in a bowl on the table.

Buen provecho y feliz cinco de Mayo!

Mexican Chorizo Burrito

 

Mexican Chorizo Burritos have been on my  mind the last few days as Cinco de Mayo celebrations are just around the corner. The 5th of May in Mexico celebrates the unexpected defeat of the French army in the battle of Puebla in 1862. While this was not the definitive ending of the French occupation of Mexico it marked the turning point for Mexico’s liberation from French rule. 

As there is sometimes confusion about the differences  between tacos and burritos, a short clarification follows. Both tacos and burritos us tortillas as a base. Tacos are generally made with 6 inch corn or wheat flour tortillas as a base. The tortillas can be either soft or fried and crispy.  Tacos are served flat along with various salsas to add as condiments. Soft tacos are then folded and eaten using your hands. A burrito is best described as large 10 inch soft flour tortilla filled with various ingredients that are then wrapped and rolled into an open ended cylinder and eaten beginning at the open end. The burrito is the precursor of the contemporary“ wrap” if you will. Burritos are considered Mexican street food. Burrito is the diminutive word for burro. And so the burrito was  aptly coined as a donkey loaded down with an assortment of ragtag cargo. 

The Aztecs were making corn tortillas as far back as 10,000 BC, once they had devised a method called nixtamalization, in which native corn was soaked in water and lime which released vital nutrients in the corn. The corn was then boiled, dried, and ground into meal that was used to make corn tortillas. Tortillas were all made with corn until the Spanish arrived in Mexico in the mid 1500’s, and introduced and cultivated wheat that was integrated  into the Mexican diet via wheat flour tortillas which are used to this day as burrito wrappers.

Fast forwarding to twentieth century North America, where the fist commercially handmade tortillas were introduced in San Antonio, Texas, in 1947. Then In 1972 Villamex introduced the first machine made tortillas into the North American market and Mexican foods went mainstream.

The breakfast burrito, which includes fried chorizo and scrambled eggs, has become a favorite the world over. But the more common rustic chorizo burrito found all over Mexico that is filled with beans or rice, some Mexican cheese, and salsa  is the real deal and pure perfection in my mind’s eye.

The Mexican chorizo burritto recipe that follows involves making several traditional components, but once they are prepared the burritos are easily assembled. Just think of the preperations as honing your Mexican cooking skills that you will be using again and again!

 

Mexican Chorizo Burritos      makes 6

Homemade Mexican chorizo For recipe (click here)

Follow the instructions for preparing the chorizo mixture and marinate it for at least 24 hours before you intend to use it.

Divide the chorizo mixture into 12 2 oz/57g portions. Shape each portion into small torpedo shaped sausages and place them on a parchment lined baking tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Any leftover chorizo mixture can be frozen for later use.

Preheat the oven to 375f/190c

Brush the Chorizo with olive oil and transfer the tray to the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Homemade Chorizo for Burritos

Homemade Chorizo for Burritos

Assembling the burritos:

  • 6 large flour tortillas, wrapped in a kitchen towel and warmed in the oven or microwave
  • soft cooked beans, or refried beans, warmed   For recipe (click here)
  • For refried beans recipe  (lick here)
  • Mexican cotija cheese (or mild Feta), crumbled
  • 12 small warm cooked chorizos (2 per burritto), cut in half lengthwise 
  • sprigs of fresh cilantro leaves
  • fire roasted tomato salsa   For recipe (click here)

Have all the components assembled before you begin making the burritos.

Making Mexican Chorizo Burritos

Making Mexican Chorizo Burritos

Place a warmed large flour tortilla on a large flat plate or cutting board.

Spread a generous amount of warm cook beans or refried beans over inner surface of the tortilla, leaving about an inch around the edge of the tortilla as it is.

Place 4 halves (from 2 sausages) on top of the beans in the center of the tortilla from top to bottom.

Scatter the crumbled cheese over the surface as pictured.

Spoon salsa around the center and topping the chorizo. Top with fresh cilantro sprigs to your liking.

Fold about ¾ of an inch of the bottom edge of the tortilla towards the top as pictured. Then fold the left side of the tortilla over the filling, gently tucking the inner edge of the tortilla under the filling as pictured.

Then gently roll the filled burrito until it meets the right side of the tortilla. Spread a small amount of beans near the edge to act as a “glue” before closing the burrito.

Serving:

Serve promptly while still warm with additional salsa on the table.

If you prefer making the burritos ahead of time, omit the salsa and the cilantro sprigs. Place the burritos on a backing tray and tent the tray with foil and secure the edges tightly. Place the tray in the preheated 300f/150c oven for about 20 minutes. Serve right from the oven with salsa and cilantro sprigs placed on the table.

Malfatti;Italian ricotta and spinach dumplings

Malfatti; Italian ricotta and spinach dumplings

 

Malfatti, which loosely  translates as “poorly made” in Italian, are billowy dumplings of ricotta and spinach. Essentially gnocchi, but without the dough casing. A wonderful choice for a gorgeous light meal that is sure to satisfy even die hard meat sauce lovers.

Malfatti speak for themselves. Unlike gnocchi, there is no fiddling about making perfectly shaped dumplings. These have a very rustic homemade allure that harkens back to 17th century northern Italian cooks in the countryside. Malfatti can be steamed, boiled, sauted, or gently cooked in a simple tomato sauce.

I make my own ricotta (see recipes here) paired with the simplest tomato sauce (see recipe here) made with imported Italian tomatoes or tomato passata, fresh Italian tomatoes which have been passed through a food mill to remove the skin and seeds. Imported passata is readily available. To a passata just add onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and olive oil and you have the simplest of red  sauces made in no time.

 

Malfatti: makes about 15    3 servings

Malfatti in red sauce

Malfatti in red sauce

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • large bunch of young spinach leaves, chopped
  • 6oz/170g ricotta cheese
  • 1 organic egg, whisked
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp finely grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
    prepared red sauce
  • whole dried red chiles (optional)

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the spinach and saute just until the spinach has wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer the spinach to a paper towel to absorb excess water and set aside.

Place the ricotta in a mixing bowl and add the wilted spinach, egg, ¾ cup of Parmegiano-Regiano, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and flour. Fold the ingredients together until just combined and coming together.

Cover the mixture and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This will make the malfatti easier to form.

Then scoop out a generous tablespoon size portions of the mixture and form into elongated egg shapes without being too concerned about their uniformity. Think malfatti!

Place them on a parchment lined tray, cover, and refrigerate until you are ready to cook them in red sauce.

Preheat the oven to 350f/180c

Warm the red sauce and pour a cup or so in a baking dish. Then add the malfatti to the dish and add more sauce to nearly cover the malfatti with only the top exposed. Add the dried chiles if using and transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Open the oven and add the remaining ¼ cup grated Parmigiano over the tops of the malfatti. Turn the baking dish for even baking and continue baking until just lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Serving:

Serve the malfatti as pictured in a pool of red sauce along with a mixed greens salad and some crusty bread.

A perfect summer meal!

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