Bites & Starters
Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexico’s colorful history, culture, customs and of course its irresistible food that is celebrated around the world on the 5th of May.
So let the celebrations start in your very own kitchen. The first thought that always comes to mind is guacamole that has been part of the Mexican diet since Aztec times and pairs well with any Mexican meal you may be planning. The process is quite simple and the results are sublime if you taste as you go. Avocados and chiles can vary greatly but can be brought together with a balance of heat, lime juice, salt, and an attentive palate. I’ve always find this ritual as comforting as it is ultimately delicious.
Ingredient quantities are approximated and will vary to suit your own taste preferences.
Above all keep in mind this is an adventure in cooking that will continue to evolve every time you make a guacamole!
Best to prepare guacamole several hours before serving as it is best when chilled.
- 2 or 3 ripe hass avocados, green with lumpy skin or Puebla avocados ,dark with smooth skin
- a small yellow onion, finely diced, amount to taste
- serrano, jalapeno, and or red chiles, seeded and finely diced, amount to taste
- sea salt to taste
- freshly squeezed lime juice to taste
- chopped cilantro leaves to taste
- a tablespoon of avocado or olive oil ,optional, but it does add a nice richness and texture.
Cut avocados in half around the seed and and twist to remove the seeds, saving one to use later. Spoon the flesh into a mixing bowl and mash together with a bean or potato masher just until combined.
Add the diced onions, dced chiles, and salt and mash together bearing down enough to release the liquid in the onions and chiles as you mash away.
Add lime juice and swirl in until combined. Then add the cilantro and mix until well combined.
Taste and add more chile, salt, and lime juice as needed until the guacamole’s flavors dazzle like a chilled fresh lime juice margarita wit an assertive lingering heat.
Transfer the guacamole to a non reactive container and place the reserved avocado seed in the center. Legend has it that this will help keep the guacamole fresh and green. Press cling film directly onto the surface of the guacamole. Put the lid on the container and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
Serve the guacamole along with margaritas and appetizers, with the main courses or a buffet. And do not be afraid to include guacamole with non Mexican meals as well. I’ll be having guacamole and salsa verde (see recipe here) with my Chinese stir fry tacos later this evening!
At My Kitchen Table has moved to Hawaii !
The last few of years have been a series of fits and starts and ever shifting priorities that have rearranged everyone’s lives, my own included. I found myself longing for the easiness of my day to day life I left behind in the tropics. A plan was quietly fermenting for an eventual return. So when a window of opportunity finally arrived I jumped at the chance and booked a flight to Honolulu.
Once again I was” figuratively” packing up “my kitchen table and heading back to the Asia Pacific. A serendipitous offer for a place to live in the middle of Honolulu’s ethnically diverse Chinatown was a cooks dream. I have been exploring every imaginable Asian cuisine in the street, as well as restaurants, shops, and markets all within a few short blocks of my own kitchen.
Luckily I also live directly across the street from Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery at 1027 Maunakea Street where you will find Honolulu’s most popular Char Siu Manapua (Hawaiian) Char Siu Bao (Cantonese) steamed buns filled with Asian barbecued pork. Crowds queue up at the door every morning at 7am sharp!
Char Siu Baoare Chinese steamed buns filled with barbecued pork have got to be my favorite alternative wake up and smell the coffee breakfast, be it in a Chinatown coffee shop in New York, LA, Honolulu, or from my local 7 Eleven back in Chiang Mai! Steamy hot billowing white clouds of dough bursting with the aroma of barbecued char siu pork along with a seriously strong cuppa java with a pinch of Hawaiian salt kick starts the day Asian style.
You may also want to try making your own char siu bao at home. It requires a few easy steps but well worth the effort as well as an open invitation to get creative with seasonings and flavors added to the filling.
I posted a recipe for Char Siu Bao back in 2014 (Clicke here for recipe) which you might enjoy, especially if they are not available where you live.
Honolulu’s Kekaulike Market place at 1039 Kekualiki Street in Chinatown is
Open daily. Best to get there early for local produce, meats, poultry, seafood, herbs and spices, woks, kitchenware’s, and you name it.
Hawaiian favorites as well as the ethnic cuisines from all over Asia are all available right here in Honolulu’s Chinatown.
Chinatown also has a burgeoning art scene well worth exploring!
Join in on the fun !
It is free and don’t miss out on all the food and fun
to be had here in Hawaii!
Ajvar is a traditional roasted red pepper sauce/ puree favored throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, with regional variations across Lebanon, Syria, the Balkans, Turkey, and the Middle East. Ajvar is served with grilled meats, fish, kabobs, mezze plates, or just slathered onto a warmed pita bread.
Ajvar is a simplified Muhammara (see Recipe here),either of which I like to keep on hand to jazz up those meals that beg for a flavor boost.
Ajvar is available in in Greek and Middle Eastern shops and online, through rarely found on supper market shelves. So why not prepare Ajvar at home. The ingredients are all readily available and the recipe that follows will walk you through the process. Preparing the peppers and eggplant may seem a bit tedious, but it is all well worth the effort I assure you. The slightly sweet and smoky aroma wafting throughout the kitchen will be enough to spur you onward with the tasks at hand.
Putting up a jar freshly made Ajvar is one of those cook’s moments, a raison d’etre if you will and, I have to say, what makes cookery so compelling.
So, with that thought in mind let’s get cooking!
makes 1 quart
- olive oil as needed
- 4 ripe red bell peppers
- 1 ripe red jalapeno chile
- 1 medium eggplant
- 5 large garlic cloves, skin on
- 2 tablespoons unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sea salt + more to taste
Rub the bell peppers, jalapeno, eggplant, and garlic with olive oil and place on a large baking tray.
Place the tray of vegetables under the preheated broiler and broil until the skins on the peppers, jalapeno, and eggplant blister and are are charred in spots. Turn all the vegetables and continue broiling. Remove the garlic as soon as it is lightly colored and set aside.
Continue broiling the reaming vegetables until all sides are charred and blistered.
Transfer all the broiled vegetables to a large bowl and seal tightly with cling film and set aside to cool.
When the vegetables are cool enough to handle you are going to peel away the charred skins and discard them. As tempting as it may be, do not rinse the vegetables under the tap as you work. Doing so will only wash away the flavor you have created during the broiling process.
Likewise be sure to reserve all the juices from the roasting pan as well as the juices collected as you remove the seeds from the peppers, chile, and eggplant. All these flavorsome juices will be added back into Ajvar later.
Cut the bell peppers and jalapeno in half. Remove all the seeds and membranes and discard them. Tear the bell peppers into strips lengthwise and place them in the work bowl of a food processor along with the peeled eggplant.
In a small bowl combine the jalapeno, peeled garlic, salt, and vinegar and mash together with a wooden spoon to form a paste and set aside.
Begin pulsing the peppers and eggplant in the processor until the mixture looks like a coarse puree.
Stop the machine and spoon the garlic chile mixture on top of the red pepper puree and pulse until the mixture begins to smooth out.
Place a wide nonstick fry pan over medium low heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot add the Ajvar puree to the pan and stir for several minutes. Then add any reserved juices and stir them into the puree continue to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time to avoid any scorching.
Taste and add salt if needed.
Transfer the Ajvar to a sterilized jar and cool to room temperature. Add a thin layer of olive oil on top of the Ajvar and seal tightly with a lid and refrigerate.
The Ajvar will keep in the refrigerator for at least a month or more.
Serve as suggested as well as with j sandwiches, pasta, tacos or anything else that comes to mind.
I used to make some stellar Thai basil pesto variations when I was living in in Thailand. But Thai basil is hard to find here in the US unless you’re lucky enough to have an Asian grocery store near by.
By all means use Thai basil if it is available for the recipe that follows. There are two varieties to look for. Thai sweet basil has pointed bright green aromatic leaves with a hint of anise and an after note e of cinnamon. Thai holly basil leaves are a deep green or sometimes reddish purple leaves with an earthy peppery flavor. Both variegates are distinctly more assertive in flavor than broad leaf Italian basil.
If Thai basil is not available, just adapt and diversify, which is how this recipe evolved. The secret to Thai food’s popularity is a cleaver one. Most Thai dishes include all five elements of taste, those being salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (savory) flavors in one dish which is pure genius. It’s no wonder why Thai food is so loved. With that concept in mind I used readily available broad leaf Italian basil along with some hot jalapenos from south of the border, some Thai fish sauce, lime juice, cashews (abundant in Thailand) and you end up with a Thai- americano pesto!
This is a pesto you will want to add to your repertoire. A dollop added to almost any savory dish will have it bursting with all the flavors of a Thai- americano mash up.
Pictured is Thai..americano Peato served on toasted bread strips atop a salad of baby arugula, pickled beets and hard cooked eggs, and shaved aged provolone cheese.
Thai…americano Pesto Makes about 1 ½ cups
- 3 cups fresh torn broad leaf Italian basil leaves, or Thai basil if available
- 2 tablespoon minced garlic
- 3 to 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 or 2 jalapeno chiles, seeded and diced
- ½ cup chopped cashews
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce +more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- cold water as needed for thinning
Place the basil leaves, garlic, 3 tablespoons lime juice, jalapeno chiles, cashews, ¾ teaspoon of salt, fish sauce, and sugar in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are broken down into a coarse paste.
Scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Turn the machine on and pour the olive oil into the feed tube and continue to run the machine until all the oil is incorporated.
Stop the machine and taste the pesto and add additional salt and fish sauce to taste. If the pesto needs thinning, turn the machine on and add 1 tablespoon of cold water at a time until you reach the desired consistency.
Transfer the pesto to a nonreactive container, cover, and refrigerate.
The pesto can be served chilled or at room temperature with endless applications.
Listed are additional pesto recipes that I have posted over the years to to expand your pesto repertoire for freezing for later use during the winter months.
Fresh Sweet Italian Basil Pesto (see here)
Pesto alla Siciliana & Pesto Trapanese (see here)
Spinach Pesto with Pancetta (see here)
Pomegranate Glazed Pork Loin with Pistachio Pesto (see here)
Pesto Diverso (see here)