chili

Lomo Saltado With Quinoa “Fries”

As last week’s waffalosa turned out well, I thought that I would use the waffle iron for one more experimental twist on a classic recipe. One of my favorite dishes from Peru is Lomo Saltado, a meal that blends two cultures in one pot.

Lomo saltado is a stir-fry dish created by Chinese immigrants in Peru, combining sliced beef and soy sauce with Peruvian ingredients such as hot aji and sweet bell peppers. The sauce and juices from the meat seep into the fries and the steaming cup of rice that usually accompany the meal. Replacing the fries with quinoa “fries” keeps both traditional ingredients and the intent of the original dish intact. The accompaniments are meant to soak up the sauce, and the quinoa version accomplishes this just as well. Additionally, making the quinoa “fries” in a waffle iron is a healthier alternative to frying, while still retaining the crisp and crunch of regular fries.

Quinoa flour is the base for the waffle batter. As I couldn’t find quinoa flour in the large grocery stores, I ended up buying whole quinoa in the bulk produce section. I dry-toasted the grain first, following steps that I had learned from my mother, before blending small batches in the blender. Dry-toasting whole seeds removes the grain’s moisture and keeps the milled or blended flour fresh for longer. It also prevents pesky bugs from settling into the ground flour.

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Quinoa “Fries”

Quinoa – 2 cups

Eggs – 2, lightly beaten

Milk – 1 cup, warmed

Butter – 1 ½ tbsp, room temperature

Baking powder – 1 ½ tsp

  • Heat a wok or pan to high heat. Add the whole quinoa and dry-toast it, tossing lightly with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring, until the quinoa seeds are hot to the touch. Remove and let the quinoa grains cool.
  • In a blender, add ¾ cup of the toasted quinoa. Blend, intermittently tapping the sides of the blender, so that all the grains are mixed equally for fine flour. Remove and add a new batch, and repeat until all the quinoa grain is ground into flour.
  • Keep aside until it is cool. Sieve the flour.
  • Add baking powder to the flour and mix together.
  • Mix the eggs, milk, and butter together.
  • Combine the egg mixture with the flour. Add water to get to a pouring consistency.
  • Heat the waffle iron according to the instructions.
  • When the waffle iron is ready, pour the batter over the pan, until is completely covered.
  • Cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove and let the quinoa waffle cool. Cut the quinoa waffle along the lines into three strips. Make as many waffles for the “fries” as needed. Keep aside.

Lomo Saltado

Beef tenderloin – 1 lb, cut into thin strips

Oil – 2 tbsp

Red onion – 1 medium, cut finely lengthwise

Garlic cloves – 5, finely chopped

Chili – 3, sliced lengthwise (de-seeded if you don’t want the chili heat)

Red bell pepper – 1, cut into thin strips

Oregano – 1 ½ tsp

Tomato – 1 medium, cut into chunks

Soy sauce (light) – 2-2½ tbsp

White wine vinegar – 1 tbsp

Parsley – 2 sprigs

Salt and pepper – to taste

  • Heat the oil in a wok
  • Add the beef strips and stir-fry for a minute, until browned all over. Remove and keep aside in a bowl.
  • In the same oil, add the onion slices and sauté for 2-3 minutes, until they are transparent.
  • Add the garlic, half the red bell pepper strips, oregano, chili pepper, and tomatoes.
  • Add the soy sauce and white vinegar, and mix.
  • Sauté for about 3 minutes, until the bell peppers lose their crunch.
  • Add back the meat and the juice from the pan and heat through.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Garnish with parsley and remaining red pepper strips.
  • Tuck the quinoa “fries” under the meat and vegetables. Serve immediately.

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Salsa Criolla And Chimichurri: Fireworks And Spicy Condiments

I was caught off guard when two familiar flavors landed at my table through an unexpected intersection of food cultures. I was instantly transported to two of my mother’s Sunday specials – a lunch featuring fried rice with an accompaniment made of raw red onions, green chili, and vinegar and dosa (rice pancake) with cilantro (coriander leaves) chutney. However, this time, I wasn’t in India, but in Peru – eating the same onion salsa-like combination paired river trout ceviche and a creamy cilantro sauce with roasted chicken.

The connections made through ancient trade routes seemed to have culminated on my table: The exchange of ingredients and preparation styles link us together more than we might expect. In both countries, the condiments combine the crisp piquancy of red onions with the heat and color from the varieties of chilies, and rounded out by the herbal notes of cilantro in almost identical ways. In Peru, I also found a new twist on the classic chimichurri from neighboring Argentina. This parsley-based condiment is a welcome addition to my list of accompaniments for the upcoming holiday weekend. Instead of its usual topping for grilled flank steaks, chimichurri can double as a dipping sauce for chunky slices of bread – exactly how it was served in Peru.

These condiments can be made ahead, and are quick and easy accompaniments to barbecue dishes. Happy July 4th!

Salsa Criolla

Red onion – ½, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Olive oil – 1 tbsp

Aji chili – 1, cut into rounds

Lime – 1, juice

Salt – ¼ tsp

  • Mix the oil, lime juice, chili, and salt together. Keep aside up to couple of hours ahead of when needed.
  • Just before serving, add the sliced onions to the mixture. Toss until the oil-lime juice mixture coats the onions well.

Note: Substitute aji with serrano or jalapeno, but use caution when handling chili. Remove the seeds to lessen the spicy heat.

Chimichurri

Parsley (fresh) – ¾ cup, chopped

Shallot – 1, finely chopped

Serrano (jalapeno) – 1, finely sliced

Garlic cloves – 3, finely sliced

Red wine vinegar – ½ cup

Olive oil – ¼ cup

Oregano – ¼ tsp

Salt (kosher) – ¼ tsp

Pepper – ½ tsp

 

  • Mix together the chopped parsley, shallots, serrano chili, and garlic.
  • Shake the red wine vinegar, olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper well before adding to the parsley mixture.
  • Chimichurri can stay refrigerated for 1-2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Note: If you enjoy the flavor of cilantro, replace a ¼ cup of parsley with cilantro.

 

 

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Chilies For Summer

A. and N. recently commented that one of my recipes was tongue-numbingly spicy! I hadn’t taken into account my tolerance for chilies, and had assumed giving a range, between say 1-2 chilies in a recipe, would be a sufficient warning. The fiery heat in a spicy dish comes from both the number of chilies added and the type of chili used.

Chilies are available most commonly in red and green colors – the red chili is spicier than green, while the darker green varieties are hotter than the paler ones. The Scoville scale, which measures for the pungency in both chilies and other spicy food, can only serve as a guideline. For example, Carolina Reaper is now the hottest chili pepper available pushing bhut or ghost pepper down the scale; bhut when I was growing up was the hottest chili known and those who ate it were looked on with hushed admiration. Serrano, which I use, is three-quarters way down the chart, but obviously is still too hot for A. and N.

Heat receptors on our tongue feel the chili burn, and people with more heat receptors are more sensitive. A compound found in a chili called capsaicin is responsible for the burn or chili heat. As you build up a tolerance to spicy food (by eating more because you enjoy the kick), these receptors become less responsive. Why bother suffering to build up a tolerance? Chilies have anti-oxidant properties and provide vitamin C – roughly six oranges’ worth in one chili. The other advantage of eating spicy hot food (especially prevalent during these summer months!) is that the chilies cool you down more effectively. Chili heat increases blood circulation and metabolism, which increases perspiration – releasing heat and cooling down the body naturally.

Following some basic precautions, spicing up food with chilies is adding yet another flavor enhancer to a meal.

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Precautions:

  • The capsaicin gland is in the white pith-like tissue in the center of the chili fruit. Remove this spongy tissue along with the seeds attached to it for a milder flavor.
  • After chopping the chilies, wash your hands well with soap and water to prevent the burn irritating your skin.
  • If a recipe gives you a range, start with the smallest number of chilies in the range.

How To Tone Down A Spicy Dish:

  • Once a dish is cooked and tastes spicy hot, the dish can be saved by adding a teaspoon or two of sugar to counter the heat. Sour flavors are also known to reduce the heat. Add a little lime or lemon juice to the dish.
  • Dairy products also counter chili burn. In Indian meals, dairy products such as yogurt are added to the dish or served on the side. In Thai dishes, coconut cream serves to balance the heat. In Mexican food, sour cream is served with spicy guacamole and meat.
  • Drink buttermilk or milk with the spicy dish or eat a carbohydrate such as bread or rice to minimize the chili heat.

Searching For Balance: Exploring Umami In Cuisines (Part 1)

My mother had a remarkable ability to balance flavors and textures in even the daily multi-course Indian meal. This sounds very simple to achieve, but when done correctly, aromatics abound and color saturates the meal, while flavors pop on your tongue. In the Indian Ayurvedic healing practices, a healthy body requires a balance of sour, bitterness, salt, astringent, sweet, and pungent tastes. When I learned of yet another flavor, umami, I wondered how this elusive taste could transform what A. and N. call a “meh” meal to one loaded with a multi-sensory experience.

Umami, in Japanese, loosely translates as delicious food, and is the fifth taste after salty, sour, sweet, and bitter. The “meaty or hearty” sensation felt on the tongue is the taste of glutamates or salts of glutamic acid, made famous by MSG, the now much maligned food additive. Glutamate salts exist naturally in seaweed, some vegetables, seafood, and meat. In Far Eastern cooking, they are used commonly as fermented fish sauce and soy sauce.

I experimented with fish sauce as I reworked a Thai recipe for my favorite papaya salad with ingredients that were available at home. When I attended a Thai cooking class recently, our instructor would remind us to “check for balance,” just before we plated our creations. By pounding individual flavors of chilies, salt, sugar, and tangy lime before adding fish sauce, it became easy to savor the fifth element both in conjunction and separate from the others. The process also led me to want to learn how other cuisines, especially those not served in groupings, manage the delicate balance.

Green Apple And Cucumber Salad

(Adapted from a Thai-style Green Papaya Salad)

Green Apple – 1, cored and finely shredded

Cucumber – 1 medium, peeled, deseeded and shredded

Green beans – 5, sliced thinly in 1-inch pieces

Serrano chilies – 2-3, deseeded and sliced

Garlic –3 cloves, peeled and sliced

Tomato – 1, quartered

Salt – ¼- ½ tsp

Fish sauce – 1 tbsp

Sugar (white, brown or palm) – 1 tbsp

Lime – 1-2 tbsp, juice

  • In a mortar and pestle, crush the chilies and garlic.
  • Add the sugar and pound until incorporated.
  • Add the beans and crush lightly. (If the following ingredients don’t fit into the mortar, move them into a larger bowl.)
  • Add the shredded apple and cucumber into the bowl. Gently crush them with the pestle.
  • Add the limejuice, salt, fish sauce, and tomatoes. Toss gently. Taste just once (or else your tongue gets overwhelmed) to adjust and balance the flavors.
  • Serve immediately.

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Reinventing Chili Leftovers – The Dolma Way

Whether it is food remaining from a tailgate party or from the holidays, I enjoy having leftovers. However after a day or two in the refrigerator, those meals start to look uninspiring. Recently I borrowed a technique that is used in many cuisines to freshen my chili leftovers.

I stuffed the remaining chili into bell peppers and wrapped some with cabbage leaves, which introduced both color and variety into the next few meals. Dolma is a term commonly used for stuffing and wrapping a vegetable. The vegetables used for stuffing meat, dried fruits and nuts, grains, and lentils are usually bell peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. Common wrappers are cabbage or grape or vine leaves. Whether a dolma is filled with vegetables and called a leaf dolma or one that is predominantly meat and called a meat dolma, the dish combines many spice flavors and textures.

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As my two-day old, lackluster chili looked attractive again in these vegetable vehicles, I was motivated to try out a version of more traditional eggplant dolma.

Eggplant Dolma

Eggplant – 1 large

Ground meat – 1 lb

Shallots – 2, chopped finely

Garlic – 3, minced

Bell Pepper – 1, chopped

Tomato paste – 3 tbsp

Olive Oil – 3-4 tbsp

Cumin – 1 tsp

Paprika – 2 tsp

Salt – 1 tsp

Pepper – 1 tsp

Parsley – ½ bunch, washed

 

  • Set the oven at 375°F
  • Using a sharp knife, remove the stalk and cut the eggplant in half. Chop one half of the eggplant into cubes.
  • Score the other half of the eggplant in the middle. Cut away on both sides so that you have a hollowed out boat-shaped center. Scoop out as much of the flesh as you can from the center with the knife or spoon. Chop the scooped out pieces and add them to the cubed eggplant.
  • Heat a pan with oil, and brown the boat-shaped half on either side. Remove
  • Add the shallots and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the garlic and spices and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the meat and eggplant cubes. Mix and remove from heat.
  • Stuff the meat mixture into the hollowed out eggplant.
  • Place the eggplant onto a foil-lined pan.
  • Mix the tomato paste with water so it forms a watery paste.
  • Add the extra meat mixture and the chopped peppers to the tomato mixture.
  • Spread them around the eggplant.
  • Bake for 45-50 minutes until the eggplant is cooked through.
  • Garnish with parsley.

 

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Pairings – Companions Plants and Companion Foods

When my uncle gave me chili seeds this winter, the gift also came with a piece of advice: Plant the seedlings with tomatoes and basil. Companion planting is a method of fostering a symbiotic relationship between certain plants. These plant groupings support the arrival of the right insects for pollination, while simultaneously discouraging pests, and avoiding competition for the same nutrients in the soil. When I looked for other plants that could be compatible with the chili seedlings, I found brightly colored Venn diagrams and charts that offered different options for small urban gardens and even container pots. My research paid off; my tiny 8×3 ft. vegetable patch is now packed with Swiss chard, tomatoes, basil, and chili pepper seedlings. The cover provided by basil, a low-growing plant, should increase the humidity required for the chili plant to thrive, and its fragrance will repel the pesky tomato hornworm. The big tomato leaves should protect the chili peppers from the sun while the roots of the chili peppers block the growth of certain fungi.

As I was mapping out my patch, I wondered if the adage “what is grown together goes together” was why our family often enjoys juicy sweet tomatoes and freshly-plucked basil together. Pairing this combination with fresh mozzarella and whisked red wine vinaigrette (1 part red wine vinegar to 3 parts olive oil, plus kosher salt and pepper to taste) creates our favorite go-to summer flavor. Another companion plant/companion food combination that I will enjoy this summer is Swiss chard and tomato. I am excited to try them in combination with dried beans and couscous for a new summer salad.

It is not just plants and food that go together. Food and beverage pairings such as Chinese food and black tea or steak and big red wines are universally enjoyed. Tannins found in both tea and red wine are astringent (which is what creates a dry sensation in your mouth), and work well with the fat in meats to accentuate the taste of protein. It is this same astringent taste in beer that has us eating bowls of salted peanuts!

In ayurveda, an ancient Indian holistic practice, certain food pairings are discouraged as they are said to create an imbalance in the body. Eating foods that create opposition in our bodies (such as iced drinks after food) is tamping down the heat created by digestion, thereby slowing the process. Similarly, fruits and cold milk are never combined as milk acts as a laxative while fruits act as a diuretic, resulting in poor digestion. Yet I love my fruit (specifically, mango) shakes!

Do culture, current fashions, or our environment dictate our choices? When in doubt, simply follow the advice of a chef with a passion for local and seasonal ingredients – Alice Waters writes simply in The Art of Simple Food: Notes, lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution: “Let things taste of what they are.”