lime

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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Freezing Lemons and Limes

This past weekend, I had a farewell party for friends who were moving across the country. Although I tried to make things perfect, I forgot to buy lemons and limes to garnish pre-dinner drinks and to provide an acidic balance to my Indian dinner. However, when a guest asked for a lemon wedge, I remembered that I had both fruits in the freezer. A quick 20-second turn in the microwave, and the fruit cut easily and tasted as flavorful as if fresh.

Lemons and limes are readily available, but they can be pricey off-season. Besides thrift and convenience, the advantage of frozen fruit is that it still retains moisture and nutritional benefits. Citrus packs a solid vitamin C punch, and the juice is often used in home remedies. I freeze the fruit whole (grating the rinds to add as aromatic seasonings) and as cut wedges (adding them to cold and hot drinks). I liberally use lime juice in my favorite summer dish, Lime Rice, but I have lately taken to substituting cauliflower to make a less starchy version.

Lime “Rice” (with cauliflower)

Cauliflower Rice – 2 cups

Oil – 3 tbsp

Mustard seeds – ½ tsp

Cumin seeds – ½ tsp

Lentils (red or green) – ½ tbsp

Whole, dried red chili – 2-3

Asafetida powder – ¼ tsp

Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp

Salt – to taste

Lime –1, juice

Curry leaves – 2-3 stalks

Cashew nuts or peanuts – ½ cup, dry roasted

 

  • Heat the oil in a wok or pan.
  • Add the mustard seeds to the hot oil.
  • As soon as mustard seeds start to pop, add the cumin seeds and lentils.
  • Once the cumin seeds start to sizzle, add the chilies, asafetida powder and turmeric powder.
  • Add the curry leaves and stir for a few seconds.
  • Add the cauliflower “rice” to the pan. Lower the flame and sprinkle a tablespoon of salted water. Cover and let the cauliflower cook in the steam, about 3-4 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the stove.
  • Add lime juice and salt, adjusting their balance according to your taste.
  • Garnish with cashew nuts or peanuts.

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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.