Summer Food

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!

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!

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

 

We’re already heading into the hottest months of the year here in Thailand and I can’t think of a better way to beat the heat than cooking up a fiery Jamaican Jerk. It’s hot, its ‘spicy, it’s smokin, and it’s a sure bet for breaking into a sweat that’s going to cool you right down Jamaica style!

I realize you all who live further north are still getting battered by some fierce late winter storms, but what better way to escape winter’s travails than chowing down on a seriously hot and lively Jamaican Jerk. Hold onto that thought! This is the kind of in your face spirited food that interjects a partying mood with every mind blowing bite anytime of the year!

Jerk refers to the local Jamaican cooking methods as well as the spice mixture, including locally grown allspice, that is used as a rub or marinade that seasons the chicken or pork before cooking. The allspice tree is an evergreen shrub that grows throughout the Greater Antilles, Southern Mexico, and Central America. The wood is used for cooking and smoking while the allspice berries (pimento) are dried, ground and combined with other spices for the Jamaican Jerk rub or marinade.

Jamaican jerk evolved using cooking methods brought to the island by enslaved Africans combined with indigenous Taino traditional pit roasting. Once metal barrels arrived on the island, vertical barrels were adapted for grilling and smoking the jerk simultaneously. Eventually barrel cookery was reinvented by splitting the barrel horizontally. The bottom half of the barrel is stoked with charcoal and fired up. The hot embers are then topped with allspice wood or sweet wood (laurel). The chicken or pork is then placed on top of the smoldering wood. The upper half of the barrel is then pulled down to create an intense chamber of aromatic smoke emitting from the red hot embers and smoldering wood. This combination of flavors and aromas is what makes Jamaican Jerk so unique and popular in Jerk joints on the island as well as in Jamaican enclaves in the US, Canada, the UK, and other Caribbean islands.

The other essential ingredient for any authentic Jamaican jerk is the island’s notoriously hot Scotch Bonnet chilies! These chilies have a distinct fruity flavor, but it is their 100,000 Scoville units of spicy heat that ranks them as the hottest chilies on the planet! But don’t let that scare you off. Risk is, after all, the very spice of life!

The recipe that follows is for Jamaican jerk chicken for the home cook. Obviously home cooks are not going to have a barrel cooker or maybe not even a grill for that matter. Not to worry! The oven method that follows will deliver an authentic mahogany colored Jamaican Jerk scented with allspice and sweet wood (bay laurel) that you will be proud to serve and a sure fire crowd-pleaser to use year round.

 

Jamaican Jerk Chicken     serves 4

Prepare the marinade mixture and marinate the chicken for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours before roasting.

Scotch bonnet chilies will be hard to find unless you happen to live near a Jamaican enclave. If they are not available, Habanero chilies are very similar and available in Latino markets. Otherwise using a combination of hot Thai chilies will nicely replicate the flavor and heat of the Scotch Bonnet chilies.

Scotch Bonnet Chile

Scotch Bonnet Chile

 

Thai Yellow, Red, and Green Chilies

Thai Yellow, Red, and Green Chilies

Chicken:

You can use a whole chicken with backbone removed, a chicken cut into pieces, legs and thighs only, or just skin on breasts. Breasts in particular, using this cooking method, are beautifully succulent and juicy.

 

For the marinade/rub:

  • 2-4 Scotch Bonnet chilies or Habanero chilies, seeds removed and chopped
  •  If Scotch Bonnet or Habanero chilies are not available, use 2 yellow Thai chilies and 6-8 red and/ or green Thai chilies, seeds removed and chopped
  • 6 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 teaspoon dried crumbled thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground bay leaves (ground in an electric spice mill)
  • 3 tablespoons natural dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste

 

Using a food processor or blender, combine the chilies, scallions, garlic, ginger, thyme, allspice, nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, bay leaves, and brown sugar. Pulse until the mixture is well combined and nearly pureed.

In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, orange juice, lime juice, rum, and soy sauce until well combined. With the food processor or blender running add the liquid mixture until well combined.
Then with the machine running add the oil in a slow steady stream until just incorporated.

Add the salt and pulse to mix. Taste and add more salt if needed.

Transfer the marinade to a non-reactive bowl or tray large enough to hold the chicken and set aside.

You can either poke holes into the chicken using a skewer or, if using breasts, slash the underside of the breasts with a very sharp knife on the diagonal. This will allow the marinade to penetrate deeply into the flesh.

Massage and press the chicken into the marinade until completely covered. Cover the dish with cling film and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.

 

For roasting:

Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you intend to roast.

Preheat the oven to 475 f/ 245 c

Select a deep roasting pan and a rack that will fit into the roasting pan snugly.

  • ½ cup broken bay laurel leaves
  • ¼ cup allspice berries or
  • 2 tablespoons ground allspice
  • ½ cup water

Scatter the bay leaves evenly over the bottom of the roasting pan. Top evenly with the allspice berries or ground allspice. Add the water to the pan and place the rack into the pan. Transfer to the preheating oven.

Once the oven is up to the required heat, remove the roasting pan from the oven. Shake off excess marinade from the chicken and place the chicken onto the hot rack skin side down. Promptly return the pan to the oven and roast for 15 minutes.

While the chicken is roasting, transfer the remaining marinade to a sauce pan and reduce until the marinade is the consistency of a paste. Remove from the heat and set aside.

After 15 minutes remove the pan from the oven and turn the chicken over, skin side up. Baste generously and return the pan to the oven for 15 minutes. Then open the oven and baste the chicken once again. Turn the pan to ensure even roasting and roast for another 15 to 20 minutes. The chicken should have an almost mahogany charred color. Do not be concerned. The chicken has not burned, the brown sugar has merely darkened the marinade during roasting.

Remove from the oven, cover lightly with foil and rest for 5 minutes before serving.

 

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

 

Serving:

Traditionally Jerk is served with rice and beans, and sometimes with a spicy fruit salsa as pictured. Be sure to spoon pan juices over the chicken before serving.

Any tropical fruit salsa laced with chilies adds a fresh sweetness to the sliced jerk chicken.

A Soft and Billowy Potato Salad

A Soft and Billowy Potato Salad

 

Melissa Clarke’s article,  An Accidentally Creamier Fluffier Potato Salad in the NY Times last month, as always,  captures Melisa’s delightfully playful ways in the kitchen that can turn what might be considered mistakenly over cooked potatoes for a potato salad into a mistake worth repeating.  Her purposely soft cooked starchy potatoes folded together with a mildly rich dressing makes the case for a fluffier potato salad that is truly carving worthy.

Keep in mind the secret to success here is to gently simmer your potatoes until they are as soft as they can possibly be without falling apart.

The recipe that follows differs from Melissa’s but uses the same soft cooked potato method. Once the potatoes are drained and cooled for 10 minutes, they can then be gently folded together with sauteed onions, pancetta, garlic, and celery. The salad is then dressed with a subtly rich mayonnaise and Greek yogurt dressing and served while still warm! This has been a steadfast tried and true method I have followed for years and remains my favorite way to make potato salad not matter what ingredients you are using!

 

A Craving Worthy Soft & Billowy Potato Salad      Serves 6 

  • 2.2 pounds/ 1 kilo gold potatoes, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 oz /57 grams pancetta, thinly sliced and diced
  • ½ cup finely diced onion
  • 1 plump garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup finely diced young celery
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise (Hellmann’s)
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt + more to taste
  • 1/3 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon chipotle chile powder or red chile powder (optional)
  • 1/3 cup finely sliced Italian parsley leaves
  • assortment of salad leaves and greens
  • smoked flaked sea salt (Maldon) for finishing
  • fresh parsley leaves for garnish

Peel the potatoes and cut them into ¾ inch cubes. Place in a large sauce pan and cover with water. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in some salt and simmer the potatoes until they are very soft and tender but still just holding their shape. Test by inserting a knife blade into a potato which should slip easily into the flesh. Once perfectly cooked, drain the potatoes in a colander and set aside to cool briefly. Then transfer potatoes to a large bowl and set aside.

While the potatoes are simmering, heat the olive oil in a medium size saute pan set over medium low heat. When hot add the pancetta and gently cook several minutes without browning. Add the onions, season with some sea salt and pepper , and continue sauteing until the onions are soft without browning. Add the garlic and celery and season with chipotle powder or chile powder if using. Saute 1 minute more and remove the pan from the heat.

Using a silicone spoon, distribute the warm pancetta onion mixture over the potatoes and gently fold the mixture into the potatoes. Then scatter the parsley over the top.

In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, and Dijon mustard and stir until well combined and smooth. Then spoon the dressing over the potatoes and fold in until evenly distributed. Taste and season with more salt if needed. You will notice the dressing will cling nicely to the soft starchy potatoes which gives this potato salad its soft billowy texture so do not be tempted to over mix.

Serving:

Arrange a bed of assorted salad leaves and greens  on each individual serving plate and place the potato salad centered into the leaves. Garnish with parsley leaves and scatter some smoked flaked sea salt over the potatoes and serve.

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