Puerto Rican Cilantro Sauce

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Cilantro, or fresh coriander, is a plant that is popular in Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern cuisines.  Various parts of the plant have different uses and tastes.  The seeds, when dried, are used for pickling or ground and used for flavoring dishes.  The leaves and stems are usually chopped fine and used as a fresh note to add final flavor to a dish.  People who like cilantro love the fresh lemony, lime taste it adds to foods.  But there is another group of people who can’t stand it, saying it tastes soapy or rotten.  I saw this first hand when I lived in Colombia, and believe me, the people who don’t like cilantro really, really don’t like it.  That’s rough for someone who has just been assigned to Bogota, where they put it on just about everything.  But, if like me, you like cilantro, you will love this sauce that I adapted from Steven Raichlen’s Healthy Latin Cooking.

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I discovered cookbook author Steven Raichlen long before he became the barbecue and grilling guru he is today.  In his former life he wrote cookbooks about “healthy low fat” (remember those days?) cooking with a lot of spice and flavor. I’m not a fan of low fat cooking; however, his recipes are so flavorful, I still have a couple of his older books and still use them.  He has also traveled the world extensively and the knowledge he has gained is put to good use in his cookbooks.

This sauce is one of those recipes that can be used in many different ways.  The first night I made it, I spooned it over some pan-fried salmon.  It’s great with tortilla chips, especially for dinner when you are too tired to cook, as I discovered one evening.  Later that week I added a splash more olive oil and vinegar to create a salad dressing.  I used what was left to marinate some chicken thighs that I cooked on the grill.  That’s just what I did with it.  I’m sure there are more possibilities.

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Puerto Rican Cilantro Sauce

This sauce will keep up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator, so you have plenty of opportunity to experiment with it. I made this in the food processor, but it can be made in a blender.  Place all the ingredients into the blender container at once and blend to desired consistency.  Because the sauce is pureed, you don’t have to meticulously pick off each cilantro leaf.  Just chop the stems off at the base of the leaves and discard them.

1 small onion, peeled and quartered

3/4 red bell pepper, cut into 1” chunks

1/2 green pepper, cut into 1” chunks

2 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1” pieces

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1 bunch cilantro, stemmed

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup water

salt and pepper, to taste

1. Combine the onion, peppers scallions, garlic, cilantro and oregano in a food processor and chop.

2. Add the oil, vinegar, and water and puree until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.

3. Transfer to glass jar for storage.

Adapted from Steven Raichlen’s Healthy Latin Cooking

 

Kitchen Basics – Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

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It’s almost the end of January. How is everyone doing on those resolutions? I actually decided to do something different this year and just not make any. Bring on the cookies! Actually, I decided that rather than set specific goals, I would just try to live each day in as healthy a manner as possible. I know… all those diet gurus with their intentions and affirmations would totally disagree, and I’m sure writing down goals works for some, just not for me. And, you know, my definition of “healthy” differs from day-to-day depending on what is going on in my life. Lately it’s been a lot of intense, all-day snow shoveling resulting in ravenous hunger. In that case I think it’s okay for a treat or two. Other days, rather than tackling that plank workout, some restorative yoga may be a better choice.

One thing we don’t neglect, however, is our commitment to what we consider a healthy diet. For us that means pretty much no processed food, as much as possible prepared from scratch, and a LOT of vegetables. I’m here to tell you that’s not easy sometimes, especially after a long day at work. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and there are days that I just can’t face it. I cook extra so there is always something in the freezer, but sometimes even that is not enough. That’s when we say “oh well,” and pull out the Chinese take out menu or order wings or pizza. The tomatoes in the pizza sauce count as a vegetable, right?

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Actually, I’m okay with ordering out on occasion, especially if I’ve had my usual huge salad for lunch. One thing that is super easy to make and keep on hand and takes your salad to a whole new level is homemade salad dressing. I use bottled dressing too, but much prefer to make my own, when I remember to do so. I usually have a vinaigrette of some type in the fridge as well as a creamy mayonnaise and buttermilk based one.

I’ve decided to start doing a section on Jeannine’s Cuisine called Kitchen Basics. These will be recipes that everyone should have in their hip pocket. These are foods that are the building blocks of how I cook. Vinaigrette seemed like the ideal choice for the first one.

The proper ratio for a vinaigrette is three parts oil to one part acid. For one cup that means 3/4 cup of oil to 1/4 cup of vinegar, lemon juice, etc. I have seen countless salad dressing recipes that call for half oil and half acid. In some cases, when someone is trying to produce a low fat salad dressing, the ratio is even switched – pucker up! Just don’t go there. I almost always add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard for flavor and to help with emulsifying, and then I add herbs and other extra flavors. For this recipe I decided to go with strictly dried herbs. That might have something to do with the fact that my fresh herb garden is currently buried under about 3 feet of snow, but I also wanted to see how it would taste. I was pleasantly surprised, and I think you will be too.

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Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

1 to 1 1/2 Cups Dressing

The amount of dressing will depend on if you use dried or fresh herbs, or even a combination. I generally allow one teaspoon of dried herbs for a tablespoon of freshly chopped herbs. The red pepper flakes add a bit of a bite and some nice color to this dressing. Feel free to decrease the amount or leave them out.

3/4 cup olive oil

Juice from 1 lemon (approx. 2 tablespoons)

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or 4 teaspoons dried

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a 1 1/2-2 cup mason jar and screw on the lid tightly. Shake the jar vigorously to blend the ingredients. If using dried herbs allow the dressing to sit for 15 minutes and shake again.

Note: You will have to shake the dressing to blend it each time you want to use it. Alternatively you can place the acids and the mustard in a bowl and whisk in the olive oil a bit at a time before adding the remaining ingredients. This will better emulsify the dressing and prevent it from separating as quickly; however, it does take more time.

Adapted from The Homemade Pantry:  101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila

 

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad with Pistou

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It could have been worse. I could have broken my right arm in three places (I’m right handed), rather than the left. I could have knocked my teeth out or broken my jaw when I landed face down in the street, yet somehow I managed to keep my badly scraped up face intact. I was very lucky that my shoulder stayed in place and will not require surgery and that I should regain full use of my arm, even though it will take at least 6 months. There have been some important lessons learned during this ordeal.

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I am one of those people who are busy, busy, busy, no matter what. When I am not trying to juggle doing several things at once, I’m preoccupied with what’s next. I never seem to be able to “stop and smell the roses” and quite honestly, I think I’m beginning to understand that is no way to live my life. A month ago when I fell while walking the dog, I was totally preoccupied with worrying about something I shouldn’t have been concerned about and wondering how I was going to be able to squeeze one more “to do” into an already packed schedule.

My accident has forced me to finally slow down. It’s a little difficult to rush through life with only one functioning arm, and it’s given me the opportunity to really think about what I want out of life. I still don’t have all the answers, but I’ve been able to narrow it down a bit. It’s time to ease back on the throttle and focus on the things I really enjoy, like this blog, and accept that other things might have to fall by the wayside.

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Speaking of this blog, I was just dying to pick up my camera again and get back to it; hence this post. But, I had to question my sanity as I was crawling around on the dining room floor trying to get the perfect shot while using my tripod as a second arm. Maybe I should continue slowing down, i.e., resting and healing a little longer?

Slowing down while healing also meant turning over the kitchen duties to my husband, who has done a wonderful job of keeping food on the table. I’m back in the kitchen now, albeit one-handed, and the food I’m able to cook is limited, which might not be a bad thing. Simple dishes that let the ingredients speak for themselves sound really good to me right now.

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During the summer I am always more inclined to simplify my cooking anyway. There is so much great produce out there. This year we joined a CSA for the first time. The season just started, and the jury is still out – garlic scapes and kohlrabi anyone? But this week we did receive a huge bundle of basil in our weekly selection. I was originally just going to make a Caprese salad but decided to go one step further by making a Pistou to drizzle over sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Provençal Pistou is very similar to its Italian cousin, Pesto, with the difference that Pistou does not contain pine nuts. I was looking for a more pure basil flavor for this sauce. Pistou is one of those sauces that have so much versatility. Try it stirred into vegetable or legume soups or over any kind of grilled meat or fish.

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Tomato and Mozzarella Salad with Pistou

4 Servings

The number of servings for this salad can vary depending on how many tomatoes and how much mozzarella you have on hand. The recipe makes enough Pistou to double the amount of servings. I used two really large heirloom tomatoes for four servings, which would also equate to two nice lunch servings.

 Pistou

1 clove garlic

2 cups packed basil leaves

1/3 cup grated Parmesan

7 tablespoons olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Salad

4 medium or 2 very large tomatoes

1/2 pound fresh mozzarella

Make the Pistou. Peel and halve the garlic clove length wise and remove the germ in the center of the clove. Note: This isn’t so important when you are cooking garlic, but the germ can be somewhat bitter when garlic is not cooked. Place the garlic, basil, and Parmesan in the mini-bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are finely chopped. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a steady stream. Add salt and pepper to taste and pulse to blend.

Assemble the salad. Slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella. I like slices that are a little under half an inch, but not as thin as a quarter of an inch. Arrange the tomato slices on individual plates or a serving platter. Top each tomato slice with a slice of mozzarella. Drizzle with the Pistou and serve.

 

 

 

Raspberry Dessert Sauce

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Is it Spring yet?  As residents in the Washington, DC area batten down the hatches for what I hope will be the last winter storm this year, I have to wonder if Spring will ever come.  The signs are there – the tulips and other Spring bulbs are starting to poke out of the ground and the robins are building nests.  The lawn mowers and other yard tools are even in stock at Lowes and Home Depot as we found out yesterday when we foolishly tried to find a snow blower.  Don’t dig out your shorts and flip-flops yet, however, the forecasted low for Tuesday is 1 degree Fahrenheit.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve had just about enough of this winter stuff.

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Normally, I am a big fan of cooking whatever produce is in season.  It’s cheaper, but more importantly, it just tastes better.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been really disappointed with tomatoes in winter.  But, considering the forecast, I believe emergency measures are now necessary.     

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Looking ahead to warmer times I decided to make a raspberry dessert sauce. I’ve recently decided to make my own fruit sauces to add to my Greek yogurt rather than buying the sugar-laden premixed varieties at the grocery store.  This raspberry sauce is a perfect choice.  It’s got just the right mix of fruit, sweetness and just a little touch of sour.  Although it’s great mixed into yogurt, don’t limit yourself to just that.  It’s fabulous over ice cream, and I imagine it would be pretty good over pound cake, if you are so inclined.

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Raspberry Dessert Sauce

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

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You can use any kind of berries or a mixture of berries for this simple sauce.  The sauce can be frozen, simply thaw in the refrigerator the night before you plan to use it.

 3 6-ounce packages raspberries

4 tablespoons evaporated cane juice (turbinado sugar)

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Place 2 packages of the raspberries in a saucepan with 1/4 cup water and the sugar.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the fruit falls apart.  Use a little of the liquid from the pan to make a slurry with the cornstarch, then pour the mixture into the pan with the fruit.  Continue to simmer until the mixture thickens.  Strain the sauce through a mesh strainer into a bowl.  Add the remaining 6 ounces of raspberries and the lemon juice and stir gently to cover the whole berries with the sauce.

Adapted from La Tartine Gourmande by Béatrice Peltre