vacation inspiration

At last, we stuck to the prescribed ingredient this week: Passion Fruit. This fruit has a yellow jelly-like pulp and big edible seeds. It’s very tangy—almost not sweet at all–which allows it to pair well with ingredients both sweet and savory. My introduction to passion fruit was at one of Miami’s gems, El Palacio De Los Jugos. As it’s name suggests, this open air Cuban fruit and food market is literally a “juice palace” where you can mix up myriad combinations of tropical juices. From more exotic flavors like mamey and guanabana, to more conventional mixers like pineapple and coconut, the possibilities are endless. A few years ago, I tried a combo of mango and maracuyá (<– passion fruit en español). Instantly, I was hooked. The tang of the passion fruit cut right through the sweetness of the mango in a way that worked so deliciously well. I’ve never ordered a different juice there since.

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Passion fruit certainly shines in sweet and refreshing drink form, but for this challenge, I wanted to embrace it’s warm and savory side. I was inspired by a dish I had in Aguas Calientes, Peru, the small tourist-teeming town at the foot of Machu Picchu. This September, I had the great privilege to travel there with my dad and friends from school. The night before we trekked around the ruins we had a dinner that I’ll never forget, for the great food, but moreover, for the wonderful company. After spending many months planning for our trip to Machu Picchu and many years prior to that pining for the chance to go there, it was surreal and special to be there at last, surrounded by family and friends.

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That night I dined on trout with a passion fruit sauce. The passion fruit served the zesty role that a squeeze of lemon or lime would traditionally do, but the sauce had a bit of sweetness that a sugar-lover like me adored. I created my own version of this sauce, utilizing the convenience of frozen passion fruit pulp instead of the whole fruit itself, and livening it up with ginger, curry, lime, sriracha, and fresh mint. We ate it atop salmon with a quinoa and avocado salad, an homage to our dinner in Peru, and it certainly brought some gourmet flair to an otherwise ordinary weeknight. We proceeded to eat the leftover sauce throughout the week with shrimp and as a salad dressing, so if fish isn’t your thing, this sauce can still find a place alongside whatever strikes your fancy. Now, if only this dinner could transport me back…

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Passion Fruit Sauce

1 tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup chopped onion

2 tsp minced ginger

1 tsp minced garlic

2 tsp curry powder

1/4 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp salt

1 package (14 oz) frozen passion fruit pulp

generous squirt of sriracha

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp honey

Juice of 1 lime

1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Saute chopped onion for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add ginger, garlic, curry powder, cumin, and salt and cook another minute. Add frozen fruit pulp and cook, stirring often, until it defrosts. Add sriracha, sugar, honey, and lime. Taste for extra seasoning. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender or regular blender, puree until smooth. Add mint. Serve atop fish, vegetables, tofu, salad—whatever you’d like! Keeps well covered in the fridge for up to one week.

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salad days

Getting this post in at the 11th hour of Ingredient Week 3, just before the clock turns past the halfway mark of boards studying for me (gulp). I’m happy to tell you that it was a very good week of food. It started with a quick weekend at home and a double batch of Grandma Kay’s cinnamon rolls for Easter brunch. No secret ingredients here. Except a whole lot of butter. I’ll share the recipe sometime soon when I have time to tell the recipe’s story in a way that does justice to these rolls.

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The cinnamon rolls were just one small component of a fantastically bountiful Easter dinner with my extended fam, and dinner was just one element of a decadent weekend of all the good things we eat and drink when the folks we love and don’t get to see all that often are all together. But by the time  I landed back to reality in Chicago  I was excited to have a vegetable for the ingredient of the week as an way to get back on a less-indulgent meal plan.

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I set out create something with those poblanos that I could look forward to for filling and flavorful lunches in the midst of long study days. Toward this goal I turned to a classic Joanna staple: roasted sweet potatoes. I went with the thinly sliced, wanna-be sweet potato chip method of roasting to add some crunch.

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There are enough flavors going on in this salad to keep you interested in it in leftovers-for-lunch form for days in a row (this coming from a veritable leftovers snob).  The grain and beans make it filling and wholesome and the bright tastes of the peppers, cilantro, and feta keep things far,far away from tupperwares-full-of-drudgery doom.

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I am sure that veggies could shine on their own here, sans barley and chickpeas, as a colorful twist on your conventional potato salad as we roll into barbeque season.  It will surely be featuring in my lunchtime rotation this spring.

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2 large sweet potatoes, thinly sliced (thickest setting on my mandolin/about as thin as I could have gotten them with a sharp knife)

2 T olive oil

salt and pepper

2 poblano peppers, chopped

1 c cooked barley or other grain (brown rice, quinoa, etc)

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

3 oz feta, crumbled

1 large handful parsley, coarsely chopped (more to taste)

Dressing:

2 T honey

1 medium shallot, minced

2 t dijon mustard

2-3 T olive oil

3 T white wine vinegar

salt and pepper, to taste

First, roast the potatoes. Line a baking sheet with foil and spread the sliced potatoes out on top in a single layer. Drizzle with 2 T olive oil, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Bake at 450 for about 20 minutes, flipping the slices once or twice. They’re done when tender and starting to crisp and brown on the edges. Your cooking time will vary based on the thickness of the slices so check them often at the end of the cooking time to avoid scorched taters.

While the sweet potatoes cook, whisk together all dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Combine the peppers, grain, beans, and potatoes when they’re done cooking. Drizzle over the dressing and mix to coat. Adjust the seasonings then stir the feta and parsley in gently. Serve warm or at room temperature

rising from the rank

This week we once again bring you an ingredient switch. But this time, it is not predicated on a lack of finding the ingredient. Oh no, I found epazote. I even added (and quickly removed) a few leaves of it to my dish. Let’s just say, if lemongrass is my new perfume, then epazote is what I am going to use to ward off my enemies. This stuff is frankly foul. My sister Erica, who has a knack for characterizing scents, declared that epazote smelled like “cheap industrial bathroom cleaner.” I had to agree. So, in the interest of saving Kate the physical and olfactory trouble of acquiring and using epazote, and of saving you all from reading about malodorous creations, we adopted a new ingredient. Still sticking with a Mexican theme, this week we’re taking on the poblano pepper.

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On Saturday, my then-quest for epazote took me to one of my favorite South Florida gems, the Homestead Farmer’s Market. This open air market caters to a largely Mexican and Central American community and carries a plethora of Latin ingredients: dried chiles, homemade queso fresco, warm freshly made tortillas, tomatillos, and poblanos to name a few. I came home with three overflowing bags of goods, and more importantly, with inspiration and guidance from conversing with women at the market to try my hand at a classic Mexican dish.

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Chilaquiles. It seems that there are a million versions and techniques of making this conglomeration of fried tortillas, warm salsa, drippy eggs, and cheese, but I used my limited experience with eating chilaquiles at restaurants and my desires to try my hand at making a poblano and tomatillo salsa to guide the way. I broiled a big, bright green poblano pepper with a bunch of plump tomatillos and a jalapeno to impart them with a smoky flavor. Once blistered and blackened, I whirred them up with key lime juice, onions, and cilantro to make a quick and fresh salsa that had a healthy dose of heat.

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We had the good fortune of being able to buy warm, freshly made corn tortillas from a stand at the market. I cut them into wedges and gave them a light fry and sprinkling of kosher salt to make a warm and crunchy bed for the salsa and eggs. If you’re in the market for an addictive appetizer rather than a brunch-y creation, then I’d suggest you stop here and dive into a bowl of fresh chips and poblano tomatillo salsa. But we found the self control to press on with the chilaquiles, soaking the chips in the warm salsa, and topping the saucy mixture with fried eggs.

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For my family, the most fun part of making and eating chilaquiles was getting to adorn them with all sorts of accompaniments: queso fresco, avocado, cilantro, lime, onion, crema, and—what deserves a future post in itself—pulled ancho chile spiced lamb that Erica had seemingly effortlessly stewed. We ate this as breakfast-for-dinner, and I’m already looking forward to making this for a brunch in the near future, perhaps experimenting with new techniques, flavors, and toppings. Rest assured, epazote will not be one of them.

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Chilaquiles with Poblano Tomatillo Salsa

Poblano Tomatillo Salsa

1 lb tomatillos, peeled and rinsed

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded

1 poblano pepper, seeded

½ medium onion, chopped

½ cup cilantro

1 lime, juiced (or juice of 3-4 key limes)

1 tsp salt

Set broiler to high. Cut tomatillos, jalapeno, and poblano in half and place on a large baking sheet. Broil until mostly blackened, about 4 minutes on each side. Place roasted tomatillos and peppers in a blender with onion, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Puree until blended.

Tortilla Chips

8 corn tortillas

Vegetable oil

Salt

In a large skillet, heat ½ inch oil to 350. Cut tortillas into sixths. Once oil is hot, fry tortillas, about 1 minute on each side, until golden brown. Drain onto paper towels and sprinkle with salt while still hot.

To assemble: 

Heat salsa in a saucepan until hot. Divide tortilla chips into four bowls. Divide hot salsa evenly over chips and allow it to sit while you cook the eggs. Cook the eggs to your liking (we liked ours with a runny yolk). Place cooked eggs over chips and salsa. Serve immediately with a panoply of toppings! Recommended: queso fresco, crema, lime, cilantro, onion, avocado.

substitutions

I have a bit of a problem letting a recipe just be, without substitutions. I hope this admission won’t undermine my credibility as a recipe writer, but aside from a half-dozen can’t-mess-with family dishes, I have too much recipe ADHD to cook anything exactly as written in the recipe.  And usually before a dish has even hit the table I’m thinking about what I’ll change the next time I make it.

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I fell into substitution mode this week when I filled my shopping basket with the ingredients for a sweet-salty-sour-hot pomegranate-based salad only to discover that the ingredient of the week and the salad’s main event was gone from the shelves for the season. I was too set on the concept to drop it entirely, I wracked my brain for pomegranate substitutes, landed on cauliflower (don’t ask me how… may have been the first thing I spotted on the shelf), and a new ingredient of the week was born.

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Even when I make this dish again when the pomegranates are back on the shelves, the cauliflower won’t be going anywhere soon. This salad has a lot of flavors going on and the the mild flavor and slight crunch of the vegetable serve to tie it all together. It makes a great lunch served with pita, hummus, and red pepper slices, and I can imagine it would be good as a meal on its own with some quinoa or brown rice mixed in if you feel like making substitutions.

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1 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets

1 T olive oil

1/2-3/4 c walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/4 c dried apricots, chopped

2 medium shallots, chopped

1/3 c good-quality green olives, coarsely chopped

1 large handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped (more to taste)

1 serrano pepper, finely chopped

1 T walnut oil (any neutral oil can be substituted)

2 t pomegranate molasses

1 t honey

Juice of 1 lemon

salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with foil. Put the cauliflower on the baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, lightly salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Roast cauliflower for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is soft and starting to brown. Set aside to cool slightly. Mix the walnuts, apricots, olives, shallots and pepper in a large bowl. Add walnut oil, pomegranate molasses, lemon, honey, and salt and pepper and stir well to coat. Add the cauliflower and parsley, adjust the seasonings, and serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.