Archive for the ‘Chile peppers’Category

Graycliff anchors the ages in Nassau

Executive chef Elijah Bowe of Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas
Houses lead big lives in the Bahamas. Graycliff (www.graycliff.com), for example, was built in Nassau in 1740 by notorious pirate John Howard Graysmith. During the American Revolution, the U.S. Navy used the house for its headquarters and garrison. In 1844, Graycliff became Nassau’s first inn. Over the years, it’s been owned by British nobility and by a woman close to gangster Al Capone. Its latest chapter began in 1973 when the Garzaroli family from Italy purchased the property.

cigar roller at Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas

Today, visitors can spend the night in one of 18 guest rooms decorated in old world style. They can also watch master cigar rollers from Cuba or buy sweet confections at the on-site chocolatier. Those who choose to dine in the sunlit dining rooms can also tour the 250,000-bottle wine cellar in the former prison in the basement. It’s said to be the third largest private wine collection in the world.

wine cellar at Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas

The dining room menu deftly blends the Italian heritage of the Gazarolis with the local cuisine of executive chef Elijah Bowe, pictured at the top of the post. He grew up in a small fishing village on the west end of Grand Bahama. “Growing up, we always had fresh seafood,” Bowe recalls. “At night with the full moon, we would go out and catch shrimp. We could walk out in waist-deep water and pick conch out of the water.”

Bowe studied in Florida and New Orleans and cut his teeth in the kitchens of an earlier incarnation of the Atlantis resort. He has been at Graycliff for 15 years and is adamant about using fresh fish, often from fishermen who bring their catch to the kitchen door. He also buys as much produce as possible from local growers. His resulting menus infuse continental cuisine with Bahamian flavors.

A recent lunch menu offered traditional pasta all’Amatriciana, curried Mahi Mahi with mango and papaya relish, smothered Bahamian grouper, and New Zealand rack of lamb. Bowe also crafts masterful versions of the island classics of conch chowder (finished at the table with sherry) and guava duff. The latter is a jellyroll-like concoction of diced guava rolled into a dough and then boiled or steamed. It’s often served with a rum sauce for dessert.

Bowe often offers cooking classes through the Graycliff Culinary Academy. He shared his recipe for Graycliff Bahamian Conch Chowder. The “secret” ingredient is Bowe’s version of sherry infused with thyme and fiery-hot Scotch bonnet chile peppers.

conch chowder as served at Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas

GRAYCLIFF BAHAMIAN CONCH CHOWDER


Makes 2 quarts

Ingredients

1 pound fresh conch
whole milk
4 tablespoons salted butter
1 1/2 cloves garlic, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 12-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped, juices reserved
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
water
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 dried bay leaves
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup peeled and diced Idaho or russet potato
1 tablespoon peppered sherry (see recipe below), plus more for serving
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions

Place conch in a small bowl and pour over enough milk to cover by 1/2 inch. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove conch from milk and pound using a meat mallet or the bottom of a heavy pan until conch is tender, about 2-3 minutes. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt salted butter. Add conch and cook until it just becomes firm, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add onion and celery, and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Add yellow, red, and green peppers and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until it begins to darken in color, about 8 minutes. Add whole tomatoes and juice; cook until the mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.

Add wine to deglaze, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook until the wine is absorbed, about 3 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in 5 cups of water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes.

Add thyme, bay leaves, carrots, and potatoes. Return to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, skimming any foam that rises to the surface, until carrots and potatoes are tender, 10 to 20 minutes, adding more water if necessary.

Stir in peppered sherry and unsalted butter. Serve immediately with additional peppered sherry, if desired. Store in the refrigerator, in a covered container, for up to 3 days or up to 2 months in the freezer.

PEPPERED SHERRY

Makes 3 1/4 cups

1 750ml bottle dry sherry
6-8 Scotch bonnet chile peppers, halved lengthwise
2 sprigs fresh thyme

In a large container, combine sherry, chiles, and thyme. Store covered at room temperature for at least 2 weeks and up to 2 months.

27

02 2017

Café Martinique at Atlantis dresses up humble conch

Chef de cuisine Lisa Rolle of Café Martinique at Atlantis“I trained by watching other chefs,” says Lisa Rolle, who worked her way up through the kitchens of the Atlantis resort (atlantisbahamas.com). Now she’s the chef de cuisine at Café Martinique, perhaps the resort’s top fine dining establishment.

Understated and elegant, Café Martinique nonetheless has an air of mystery and mystique befitting the fanciful world of Atlantis. A birdcage elevator carries guests to the second-floor dining room. The venue recreates the 1960s restaurant where James Bond met his eye-patch wearing arch-nemesis Emilio Largo in the 1965 film Thunderball.

Today’s Café Martinique is part of the culinary empire of French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Although Vongerichten develops the recipes, Rolle injects local flavors. “The base of a dish is local,” she says. “A lot of the items we use are local.” Herbs and greens are grown by local farmers. Rolle also makes wonderful use of fresh-caught seafood. She might serve a roasted Bahamian lobster tail with fried plantain, oregano, and chili. Or she could prepare local snapper with braised fennel, lemon, and olive oil.

conch on ice at Café Martinique at AtlantisRolle was born and raised in the Bahamas. Her roots definitely show in Café Martinique’s cracked conch appetizer. (That’s raw conch on ice to the right.) The dish of fried conch with a dipping sauce is an island staple that you might munch on in a bar while watching a televised cricket match. Rolle brings it into the fine-dining realm by accompanying the mollusk with avocado and pickled vegetables, all dusted with kaffir lime and chili powders. She serves the plate with a dipping sauce of chili citrus mayonnaise.

Admittedly, conch is a specialty of the tropics and subtropics, though more northerly fishmongers will often stock it. It’s also available via overnight shipment from many fishmongers on both the east and west coasts. In a pinch, substitute sea clams or surf clams, but discard the bellies. Here is my adaptation of Chef Rolle’s Café Martinique recipe for cracked conch.

CRACKED CONCH À LA MARTINIQUE


4 appetizer servings cracked conch plate at Café Martinique at Atlantis

Ingredients

For conch

1-1/2 pounds conch meat
lime juice
salt
hot pepper sauce
rice flour
oil for frying (peanut, canola, palm, or a blend)
salt

For chili citrus mayo

2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon sriracha
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups grapeseed oil

For pickled vegetables

2 shallots
1 small carrot, peeled
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon Thai chile pepper, minced

For kaffir powder

1 kaffir lime leaf

For lime vinaigrette

1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup grapeseed oil

For plating

frisee or other light salad greens
avocado, peeled and cut in 8 slices
chili powder

Directions

Prepare conch by “cracking” it. Using a hammer-style meat tenderizer or the flat bottom of a cast iron frying pan, pound conch meat until it is matchstick thin. Sprinkle with lime juice, a little salt, and a few dashes of hot pepper sauce. Reserve.

Make chili citrus mayo. In food processor, combine egg yolks, juices, sriracha and salt. Puree. With motor running, drizzle in the oil. Refrigerate until serving.

Pickle the vegetables. Cut the shallots and carrot into matchstick-sized pieces. Add to a saucepan with vinegar and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat and season with minced Thai chile pepper and salt. Let cool to room temperature.

Make lime vinaigrette. Combine juice, salt, sugar, and mustard in small bowl. Whisk in oil. Pour mixture into a screw-top jar so it can be shaken before being poured on salad. (There will be a lot left over for use on other salads.)

Make kaffir powder by drying the leaf in microwave, then grinding it to dust in a spice grinder or with mortar and pestle.

To cook conch, heat about 1/4 inch cooking oil in heavy, deep frying pan. (An old-fashioned cast iron chicken cooker is ideal.) Dredge pieces of conch in rice flour and fry until crispy and lightly golden. Drain on paper towels and dust with salt.

To assemble, toss salad greens with a little lime vinaigrette. Cover plates with dressed greens. Top with fried conch, avocado, and pickled vegetables. Dust with kaffir and chili powders, and place mayo dipping sauce in a bowl next to each plate.

17

02 2017

Cradle of Mexican cuisine, Oaxaca relishes mole negro

Onion seller at Oaxaca market
No one escapes untouched by Oaxaca. This lyrical, magical city has been a powerful cultural and trade center for millennia. It is also arguably the cradle of Mexican cuisine. You can always eat well in Veracruz, Mexico City, and Puebla. But in Oaxaca, you feast. Every dish is a taste revelation.

Tomatoes and chile peppers were domesticated in northern Oaxaca around 4500 BC—presumably to spice up all those meals based on beans and corn, which the ancient Oaxacans had domesticated 3,000 years earlier. And Oaxaca continued to expand its larder.

ruins of Monte Alban outside OaxacaBy the time the high culture of Monte Alban (right) arose around 500 BC, the Oaxaca Valley was a crossroads of trade between South and North America. Foodstuffs poured in from as far north as Mexico’s Central Valley and from as far south as the Andes. A millennium later–nearly a thousand years before the rise of either the Aztecs or the Incas–the Zapotec people of Oaxaca were processing peanuts and cacao. They had all the ingredients to make mole, the chile-nut-spice sauce that distinguishes the Oaxacan mother cuisine.

Oaxaca cathedralThe Spanish also influenced the complex cuisine of Oaxaca. Monte Alban had been abandoned for at least seven centuries when Hernán Cortes took the Oaxaca Valley by force in 1521. He soon built a city where he would live out his life as the self-styled Marquéz de Valle de Oaxaca. Despite their cathedral (above), the Spaniards never fully succeeded in conquering the native Zapotec and Mixtec cultures of the surrounding countryside. As a result, Oaxaca is really native Mexico.

But it’s native Mexico with sesame seeds, saffron, pigs, cows, and chickens—thanks to the Spaniards.

Timeless Oaxaca comes to the market


selling tomatoes and fruits at Oaxaca market The ancient face of Oaxaca persists in the Mercado de Benito Juarez, the fresh food market named for the local son who was president of Mexico when Lincoln was president of the U.S. The market occupies two entire city blocks south of the zócalo. (One block farther south is the 20 de Noviembre market, which has amazing food stalls, including a section devoted to grilled meat.)

People start arriving from the countryside before dawn. Some come by truck, some by pack animal, and some on foot. They bring the food they have grown and lay it out for all to see. One seller might have big bunches of onions and herbs, like the woman at the top of this post. Others might display tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers and little limes. Another vendor might lay out rows of delicate squash blossoms, fleshy and yellow. It’s hard to speak with anyone, since most of the country people have Zapotec or Mixtec as their first language. But the beaming pride in their wares really needs no translation.

apple seller in OaxacaA few might even walk in with baskets on their heads, like the woman at right, who was selling the apples she had picked from her trees. To an American or a European foodie, the market looks like a cornucopia of plenty. The Oaxaca Valley is a fruitful land.

The corner of the market where dried chiles, cacao, and nuts are sold also has several mills. Shoppers who know what they are doing will bring a mixture of chiles, cacao, nuts, and spices to be milled into a paste. You can also buy pre-ground pastes to serve as the basis for making mole. In most cases, you simply dilute the paste with some meat broth and simmer long enough to smooth out the raw flavors. Mexican chocolate available in the U.S. replicates the chocolate of the market. It consists of ground cacao nibs, sugar, ground nuts, cinnamon, and often some other spices.

Most people prefer to make their moles from scratch. We’ve written previously about mole amarillo, which is traditional for the Day of the Dead. But one of the deepest flavored moles of all is mole negro, or black mole. There are many recipes for the dish, including some that deliberately burn the chile seeds and then steep them in water for some of the liquid. Traditionally, the dish is made with chilhuacles negros, a black chile grown in the Oaxaca region but not widely exported. Even cooks in other parts of Mexico use a combination of guajillo and mulato chiles to get a similar flavor.

Like many moles, the sauce is fried because water boils at 200° F in Oaxaca due to the altitude. The sauce needs to get up to about 240° F to cook through. Note that our recipe below calls for lard, which is traditional. Peanut or corn oil will work, but the flavor is less authentic. Bacon drippings are a better substitute.

MOLE NEGRO OF OAXACA


Oaxaca style mole negro with pumpkin risottoThis mole is often eaten plain over tortillas that have been dipped in the sauce and then rolled. A sprinkling of queso fresco or crumbled feta complements the flavors.

Ingredients

3 ounces dried mulato chiles (about 5), stems and tops removed
3 ounces dried guajillo chiles (about 8), stems and tops removed
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/3 cup sesame seeds
6 whole cloves
3-inch stick of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole anise seeds
1/2 cup lard
1/2 cup whole, unblanched almonds
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup coarsely chopped white onion
6 cloves garlic
6-ounce can tomato paste
4 teaspoons salt or bouillon powder
6 ounces Mexican chocolate (two tablets Ibarra or La Abuelita), grated
up to 2 cups chicken stock

Directions

Toast chiles in hot frying pan or griddle until softened. Remove seeds, stems, and at least some of the veins. (The veins and seeds contain most of the heat.) Place in medium bowl with boiling water and soak one hour.

Toast sesame seeds in dry skillet over medium heat until golden—about two minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside to cool. Combine cloves, cinnamon, coriander, and anise seeds in skillet. Toast until fragrant (20-30 seconds) and remove to cool.

Heat lard in large cast-iron frying pan over medium heat. Add almonds and cook and stir until brown. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add raisins to pan and cook and stir until they puff up—about 30 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon.

Process raisins in blender until finely ground. Coarsely chop almonds and add to blender and process until finely ground. Add raw onion and raw garlic and process until finely ground.

Grind sesame seeds in spice grinder. Add to blender. Grind clove and spice blend in spice grinder and add to blender.

Add chiles, about a cup of soaking water, tomato paste, and salt to blender. Process until smooth.

Reheat lard in deep, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Add mole mixture. Stir to cook through and sweeten the raw flavor of onion and garlic. Add chocolate to melt. Stir in chicken stock to reach desired consistency. Cover pan and place in 325° oven for one hour. Remove, stir sauce, and place back in oven for an additional hour. This allows thorough cooking without burning the mole onto the bottom of the pan.

Roll soft corn tortillas in mole and serve with sprinkling of crumbled queso fresco or feta cheese. Pumpkin risotto makes a nice side dish. If drinking wine, choose an assertive and somewhat acidic white, like a young Chilean sauvignon blanc.

03

02 2017

What to eat at the airport: Chicago O’Hare

Tortas Frontera at Terminal 3 in ORD
Maybe it’s the feel-good endorphins released when we eat chile peppers, or perhaps it’s just the simple combinations of strong flavors, but when we’re truly stuck at the airport, nothing soothes our frazzled nerves better than good Mexican food. When American canceled our flight from Dallas to Albuquerque, we had time to discover the healing power of the chicken and green chile tamales at Pappasito’s Cantina at DFW. (See this post for details.)

Yesterday, when American summarily canceled our flight from Chicago O’Hare to Lexington, Kentucky, we headed directly to Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless. We’ve been fans of his food for years, and find that the recipes in his cookbooks are among some of the best for reproducing authentic Mexican dishes at home. It’s nice to find a friendly face, so to speak, at the airport.

Tortas Frontera, as you might expect from the name, is basically a sandwich joint. But what sandwiches! We settled in at the food court with a spicy albondigas torta (a meatball sandwich), a smoked pork mollette (an open-faced sandwich), and a bowl of creamy corn and poblano chowder that was practically the definition of comfort food.

And we knew what we were getting, as Bayless lists the ingredients and often the local farms where he gets them. The food may be Mexican by culture, but it is, as his souvenir shirts say, “Hecho en Chicago.” The meatballs incorporated pork and bacon from Gunthorp Farm in nearby LaGrange, Indiana, and they were served with Bayless’s classic roasted tomato sauce and a little melted soft Cotija cheese. The mollette was a harmonious stack of sliced pork loin, melted Jack cheese, chipotle-fig spread, Cotija cheese and a little cilantro on half a bun. And that sublime chowder contained sweet corn, roasted green chiles, caramelized onion, and Cotija cheese. When we get home, we’re going to check his cookbooks for the recipes.

We can recommend them all, with the caveat that when American is canceling flights willy-nilly, the lines get long and the service a little slow. But we could wait. We weren’t going anywhere for 24 hours.

Branches of the restaurant are located in Terminal 1 at B11, Terminal 3 at K4, and Terminal 5 at M12.

23

06 2015

Dublin gastropub’s inspired sweet potato soup

Front room at the Exchequer Pub in Dublin Pubs have always had some kind of grub to sop up the suds, but pubs all over Ireland began to take the quality of their kitchens seriously about 10 years ago. The turn toward better food was a matter of survival. Pubs lost a slew of customers after March 29, 2004, when Ireland became the first country in the world to ban smoking in the workplace — including restaurants, bars, and pubs. Once a few pubs introduced quality food with strong Irish roots, it became clear that the gastropub concept was the way to win new customers.

Two years ago, the Restaurant Association of Ireland began giving out awards for best gastropubs, and in the two competitions since then, one of the top contenders in Dublin has been The Exchequer, located on the corner of Exchequer Street and Dame Court (3-5 Exchequer Street, +353 1 670 6787, www.theexchequer.ie). It’s a cozy warren of several rooms, including two bars that stay open late, a small dining room, and a lot of high-stool seating along shelves under the windows. (That’s the bar at the Exchequer Street entrance above.) If you’re particularly fortunate, you might even score one of the old-fashioned sofas or armchairs in the bars. The waitstaff couldn’t be warmer (we got a big hug on leaving after lunch), and the menus run the gamut from steamed cockles and mussels with spicy sausage to a simple sandwich with the soup of the day.

One cold and misty day the bowl on offer was “sweet potato chili soup.” It’s a great example of the gastropub approach to reinterpreting traditional dishes with a few smart tweaks. In this case, the soup was a fresh take on potage parmentier, the classic leek and potato soup. The cook used sweet potatoes instead of regular spuds and added just enough ground chile pepper to lift the taste. With a little experimentation, we figured out how to make a satisfying version at home. We eat it with a slice of Irish brown bread (see previous post).

SWEET POTATO CHILE SOUP

Sweet Potato Chili Soup at The Exchequer in Dublin Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons butter
6 leeks (white part only), well cleaned and chopped
2 large Garnet sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
5 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon ground Espelette chile pepper (ancho or New Mexican will do)
salt to taste

Directions

1. Over low heat, melt butter in soup pot and add leeks. Cook, stirring, until soft but not brown.

2. Add sweet potatoes and chicken stock. Bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook about 30 minutes until sweet potatoes are soft.

3. Remove from heat and purée until smooth. Stir in ground chile and heat through for another five minutes. Add salt to taste.

08

02 2015

What to Eat at the Airport: More LAX

LAX Terminal 5 Operating at the corner of Third and Fairfax since 1934, the Original Farmers Market is a Los Angeles landmark that celebrates great California fruits and vegetables as well as good cooking from around the world. Now a little piece of this city treasure has been transplanted to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Opened in June, Farmers Market at Terminal 5 includes such market stalwarts as Bennett’s Ice Cream (look for the chocolate-covered frozen banana), Magee’s House of Nuts (perfect for munching on the plane), and the Dog Bakery (in case you need a treat for Fido waiting at home).

Loteria! at LAX Two spots are stand-outs for a satisfying meal before a flight. At Monsieur Marcel Pain Vin et Fromage (www.mrmarcel.com), you can select some great cheese and bread for a quick snack or order a bowl of French onion soup or a wedge of quiche Lorraine. Much more in tune with southern California’s Mexican heritage, Lotería! Grill (loteriagrill.com) serves lightened versions of regional Mexican cuisine. The green tomatillo enchiladas and shredded beef tacos are among the most popular with airport diners. But for my money, nothing beats a bowl of chef Jimmy Shaw’s purée of tortilla soup. The creamy, slightly spicy soup is topped with corn tortilla strips, sliced avocado, queso fresco, and toasted ancho chile. It’s the ultimate comfort food before a long flight back to the East Coast.

I didn’t want to wait until my next trip to Los Angeles to enjoy another bowl, so I developed this recipe to try to approximate the version served at Lotería! It’s inspired by the chicken tortilla soup I’ve been making for years from a Consumer Reports cookbook—crossed with Dean Fearing’s famed puréed tortilla soup that he reveals in his Texas Food Bible that came out last April. I have lightened up the recipe by baking the tortilla strips rather than frying them.

By the way, if you’re going to be in Terminal 7 at LAX, see this post on where to eat.

tortilla soup at Loteria!
PURÉED TORTILLA SOUP

Serves 6

Ingredients

12 corn tortillas (6-inch), halved and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
1 tablespoon light, neutral-flavored oil (sunflower, peanut, or canola)
2 medium onions, puréed in the blender or a food processor
6 whole large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon ground ancho chile
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
6 cups chicken stock
juice of a small lime
8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

For garnish:
fresh avocado, peeled and thinly sliced
queso fresco, crumbled (cow’s milk feta cheese makes a fine substitute)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange tortilla strips in single layer on cooling racks and place in oven to bake until lightly browned and crisp (about 5 minutes). Reserve.

In large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic cloves and cook until onion turns a golden brown. Stir in chile, cumin, oregano, and bay leaf. Add chicken stock, lime, tomato sauce, and sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook 20 minutes.

Taste soup and add salt and/or pepper, if needed. Add about one-third of toasted tortilla strips and cook at a simmer for 10 minutes. Remove bay leaf and purée soup in batches in a blender or by using an immersion blender. It should be the texture of light cream. If it is too thin, add more tortilla strips, cook, and purée again. If too thick, add a little chicken stock.

To serve, ladle into bowls and top with queso fresco, chopped avocado, and tortilla chips.

Tuk Tuk Taproom weds Asian street food & craft beer

Thai papaya - Tuk Tuk sign
San Antonio certainly has its native spice (thanks to Mexican chile peppers), but David Gilbert has given the city an injection of southeast Asian flavors that pair perfectly with hoppy, malty craft beers at Tuk Tuk Taproom. Raised in Dallas, chef Gilbert has traipsed all over the world to cook — and to dive. Recipient of a StarChefs Rising Chef award for work in Los Angeles and a multiple nominee for James Beard awards for work in San Antonio, he came to the Alamo City in 2011 at the behest of Texas cuisine master Stephen Pyles, who was opening a new restaurant in the Eilan Hotel and wanted Gilbert to run the show for him. Ever restless (see his book Kitchen Vagabond: A Journey Cooking and Eating Beyond the Kitchen), his travels in southeast Asia sealed his culinary fate.

Thai papaya - David Gilbert headshot On a extended journey that began as a SCUBA-diving vacation, Gilbert fell in love with the street food of Asia, especially the street food of southeast Asia, and most especially the street food of northern Thailand. “I was tired of placing microgreens with tweezers,” he says breezily of the decision to turn his back on a successful fine-dining career to do something funkier — much funkier. In September 2013, he and beer meister Steve Newman opened Tuk Tuk Taproom (1702 Broadway, San Antonio; 210-222-TAPS; tuktuktaproom.com) in a small building that had been both a repair garage and a Mexican fast food joint (not, presumably, at the same time).

Thai papaya - David Gilbert The food, Gilbert insists, is authentic Asian cuisine made the way it’s prepared in the streets of Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and other parts of Asia. During San Antonio’s Culinaria food festival in May, he demonstrated three different versions of green papaya salad. Our favorite — and the one almost always on the menu (along with 60 craft beers on tap) — is the Thai salad. He insists that the granite mortar and pestle are essential because they break down the food differently than any other technique. He also cautions against putting peanuts in at the beginning, because the result will be too creamy.

Thai papaya salad
GREEN PAPAYA SALAD, THAI STYLE

You will need a Thai salad mortar & pestle — a deep-bowled mortar usually made of dense granite — to make this salad. Most Asian grocers stock the tool, or David Gilbert advises purchasing it from www.importfood.com.

Ingredients

2 cloves of garlic (peeled)
2 Thai chilis, whole
3 ounces long beans (or substitute green beans)
14 ounces Asian green papaya
1 plum tomato (cut lengthwise)
5 dried shrimp (medium size)
1 ounce fresh squeezed key lime juice
1/2 to 1 ounce fish sauce
1 tablespoon Thai palm sugar
2 ounces roasted peanuts, crushed

Directions

1. Pound the garlic and Thai chili with pestle in the mortar until mashed.

2. Add the long beans and green papaya. Pound again, bruising and breaking down the papaya.

3. Add tomato and shrimp. Lightly pound and mix the salad with a spoon inside the mortar.

4. Add the liquids and adjust the balance between sweet (palm sugar), salty (fish sauce), and sour (lime juice).

5. Add peanuts and mix all together.

6. Remove the salad from mortar and serve with raw cucumber slices and generous hunks of green cabbage.

15

07 2014

What to eat at the San Antonio airport (SAT)

La Gloria The 8 million people a year who fly through San Antonio’s airport (SAT) used to be forced to fall back on fast food chains for something to eat. But last year local chef Johnny Hernandez came to their rescue by opening La Gloria in July and The Fruteria in December. Waitress Ana Mendez at La Gloria explains the reaction of most travelers: “They come in here and think they’re going to get Tex-Mex,” she says. It’s a natural expectation, given that San Antonio might well be the capital of Tex-Mex cuisine. “They’re surprised that it’s real Mexican food. People really like it.”

wide mural2 The mural inside La Gloria might say it best: No hace falta morir para llegar a la gloria. That translates loosely as “You don’t have to die to go to heaven.”

Both La Gloria and La Fruteria open early in the morning, making either a perfect place to start the day in the airport. The most popular breakfast plate at La Gloria is the Mexican brunch classic, chilaquiles verdes. A dish originally designed to use leftovers, it’s a casserole of tortillas simmered in a tomatillo-green chile sauce. At La Gloria, the chilaquiles come with shredded chicken, queso fresco, and black beans.

Mural diner La Fruteria’s meal offerings are more limited, emphasizing fresh fruit and vegetable juices along with sandwiches (tortas), tostadas, and salads. But for later in the day, both spots have a great selection of tequilas, including both tequila and mezcal that Hernandez has made for him in Mexico. They go into inventive drinks like the mango melon margarita or the piña mezcal margarita.

We’re heard complaints about slow service at La Gloria, but only during really busy travel times, such as holiday periods. Our experience was altogether different — the food almost came too quickly, given the time we had left to kill. But the flavors were the best part: Real Mexican dishes with authentic flavors, including outstanding fresh tortillas.

The mural motto has it just about right.

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01

06 2014

Mole amarillo for turkey enchiladas

Mole amarillo2Mole amarillo is a classic sauce for Day of the Dead meals in Oaxaca. When we first started visited the Oaxaca region in the 1980s, we already knew the spicy, chocolate-y mole poblano. But of the seven classic moles, the one that really blew us away was the complex, subtle, and tangibly acidic mole amarillo (yellow mole). It was the first taste of travel that we labored to bring home. In those days, that meant growing our own tomatillos and yellow chile peppers and experimenting a lot to get the flavors right. It really does represent the culmination of our garden, which may be why we introduced mole amarillo with enchiladas into our post-Thanksgiving rotation many years ago. It’s a perfect way to use to leftover turkey. We often serve it accompanied by saffron rice mixed with sautéed scallions, corn, and coarsely grated carrot from the excellent New Southwestern Cooking by Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsinger.

The concentrated form of the sauce can be made far ahead, preserved in canning jars, and be ready to eat in 20 minutes. Just follow the directions through Step 3, ladle into sterilized canning jars, and process for 20 minutes at 10-15 lb. pressure. Because it’s a high-acid food, it will keep safely in canning jars for up to two years. Or so we think. We’ve never been able to hold onto it that long.

MOLE AMARILLO (YELLOW MOLE)

Traditional variations of this autumn Oaxacan sauce, often served on the Day of the Dead, substitute dried cascabel peppers for the yellow peppers and marigold petals or safflower stamens for the saffron. Epazote is a common weed all over North America, often found in vacant lots. When crushed, its leaves smell a bit like kerosene.

Ingredients

8 fresh yellow chiles (Fresno, Santa Fe Grande, etc.), roasted, peeled, deveined and chopped
1 raw onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 lb. tomatillos, husked, parboiled and drained
1 roasted medium onion
1 roasted head of garlic
1 toasted cinnamon stick
6 toasted whole cloves
2 medium tomatoes, roasted and peeled
1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh
8 epazote leaves, minced
1/2 cup cooking oil
2 tablespoons toasted peanut or sesame oil
1 slice raw onion
generous pinch of saffron
4 cups strong chicken broth
1/2 cup tortilla dough (masa)

Directions

1. Sauté chiles, raw onion and garlic until soft. Purée and set aside.

2. Purée tomatillos, roasted onion and garlic, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, epazote and tomatoes.

3. Heat oils in heavy skillet. Add onion slice and brown. Stir in tomatillo mixture and cook about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until mole renders out the fat. Stir in chile mixture and simmer about 1 hour or until mixture thickens. Fat on top may be skimmed off.

4. Crumble and dissolve saffron in warm chicken broth. Dissolve tortilla dough in broth.

5. Add to the mole and simmer about 20 minutes until texture of custard, stirring often.

Traditionally served over chicken pieces, enchiladas or as dipping sauce for small tamales.

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11 2013

What to buy in a Cajun grocery store

grocery2 Usually Pat and I write about buying specialty foods in overseas grocery stores, but Cajun cooking stands so far apart from most other American regional food that the grocers have developed lines of goods we can rarely find anywhere else.

The pickled tabasco peppers, gumbo file powder, and various hot pepper sauces shown above are cases in point. In fact, I was once told by a northern grocer that file powder was illegal. (Not true, but it is allegedly mildly carcinogenic. If you eat three pounds at a time, you might develop a tumor in 20 years.) Needless to say, file powder can be hard to find up here in the chilly north.

grocery1 The ingredients immediately above are even more local. Dried shrimp might be a worldwide commodity, but Louisiana dried shrimp has a distinctive flavor of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s great in a shrimp cream sauce or a soup. The garlic sauce from Poche’s is an essential ingredient in some quarters for dousing boiled crawfish tails. The instant roux mix, while not so different from Wondra flour, makes a great tan roux.

grocery3 The last item is a latecomer, at least to legitimate grocery stores. At 100 proof, this colored corn likker has the requisite kick to be called moonshine — minus the chemicals to make you go blind.