Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dark and spicy, rosy and puckery

Well, it's not yet my birthday (although we're not too far off), but already this year I've had the occasion to make one of my favorite festive dishes, the crowd-nourishing slow-cooked pork shoulder. This time, the occasion was a fête to celebrate the arrival of fall (and the last chance to have a big gathering on our huge deck 'afore the weather turns too crisp). Though my roommates and I declared our shindig a potluck, experience has taught us that cooking the bulk of the meal is probably a safe bet if one actually wants to eat something approximating a dinner (fact: most people like to bring beer as their potluck dish). And that was a o.k. by me; I love cooking for a group. While my roommate Dave slaved over a labor-intensive (and delicious) veggie lasagna, I stuck my pork roast in the oven and called it a day.

Well, not quite; it's hard for me to let myself off too easy when I cook (I'm working on it). Having decided to prepare the meat in the Puerto Rican style pernil, as opposed to going for the Southern comfort of the BBQ pulled pork I also sometimes make, I opted to serve the finished product in corn tortillas, as tacos. Clearly, I needed some condiments to go with. And it just so happened that days earlier I had noticed some mighty fine-lookin' tomatillos at the Co-op, and thought about how I had never cooked with them before. Immediately, salsa verde, that vibrant, often incendiary Mexican preparation came to mind. One down, one to go; in addition to heat, my tacos would need some crunch. Given my recent obsession with canning, I decided that a quick pickle of red onions was the way to go.

For the onions, I used a simple recipe from Epicurious; in addition to the onions, it calls for exactly three ingredients: apple cider vinegar, water, and salt. It takes about five minutes to throw together; I bet you could make it right now. Go ahead, then! Need a further push? Just look at how pretty the finished pickle looks, all glowing and rosy pink:

For the salsa, I adapted a recipe from Bon Appétit; similarly approachable, it called for the tomatillos to be boiled together with a few jalapeños, then whirled in a blender with fresh parsley, cilantro and mint, and not a small amount of garlic. Looking for a clean flavor, I left out the dried cumin the recipe called for; I also found the finished salsa to be lacking in acidity, and corrected that with both apple cider vinegar and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. I see that Bon Appétit didn't post a photo of the salsa, and neither will I; its hue wasn't exactly appetizing. But piled together with the pork and pickled onions, I doesn't look half bad; nay, the colors are almost complementary:

Pickled Red Onions
Adapted from
Makes about 2 cups


- 2 red onions, sliced into half-moons
- 1 c. apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp. salt
- Water


1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Blanch the onions for one minute, then drain and shock in an ice bath. Drain again.
2. Return onions to the pot and add the vinegar, salt, and enough cold water to just cover the onions. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer one minute; transfer onions and brine to glass jars and let cool. Note: if planning to can (preserve) the onions, you will need to sterilize the jars. Canned onions keep indefinitely; if not preserving, transfer the jars to the refrigerator, where they will keep for about a month.

Salsa Verde
Adapted from
Makes about 4 cups


- 3
lbs. tomatillos, husked, rinsed

- 2
large jalapeños, stems (but not seeds) removed

- 5
garlic cloves, peeled

- 1 bunch fresh cilantro, thick bottom stems trimmed
- 1/2 bunch fresh parsley, thick bottoms stems trimmed

- Handful
fresh mint leaves

- 1 1/2
tbsp. vegetable oil

- About 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- Juice of 1 lime
- About 1 1/2
tsp. salt


1. Place tomatillos and jalapeños in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Drop to a simmer and let cook until tomatillos are soft, about 15 minutes. Drain.
2. Place tomatillos and
jalapeños in the bowl of a blender or food processor. Add garlic and herbs, and pulse to combine, then let run until smooth.
3. Return mixture to the pot, add oil and let simmer for 5 - 10 more minutes, until salsa thickens. Remove from heat. Add cider vinegar, lime juice and salt; taste and correct seasoning. Let cool and serve.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Yet another pesto recipe

Browsing my recipe index here on this site, it's easy to see some themes in what I cook: Asian food. Vegetarian food. And not a small amount of pesto.

OK, you got me--I only have two recipes for pesto published here. But even so, I think two types of pesto is more than many people conceive of. For most of us, the word pesto makes us think of that classic combination of fresh basil, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese. But as I've talked about before, the ways in which you could deviate from that norm (different herb or even bitter green; other nuts besides pine nuts) are basically endless.

Besides its versatility, the other thing that I love about pesto is how it basically acts as a means of preservation. Having joined a CSA this summer, I've learned what it feels like to be drowning in untreated, quickly perishable produce, and as a result I've increasingly turned to jarring and canning, making mostly things like jams and fruit butters. But pesto is another great way to keep your produce around a little longer: tightly sealed, it keeps in the freezer for a very long time. Plus, since it's made up mostly of oil, it never freezes totally solid, making it super easy to just scoop out a portion or two when you're boiling up some pasta--no need to freeze it in individual portion sizes.

So now that I've sold you on the idea of all pesto, all the time, let's get to the recipe, shall we? This particular one utilizes the bitter greens of two tasty root vegetables--beets and radishes. After a very quick blanch in some boiling water just to negate any too-bitter compounds in the greens, they get blitzed with some toasted walnuts, mild oil, and parmesan cheese. This pesto is excellent, of course, served with any kind of pasta, but also makes a nice sauce when thinned down a bit and drizzled over a rich fish filet, such as salmon.

Bitter Greens Pesto

Makes about two cups


- 2 bunches of bitter greens, such as beet or radish tops, dandelion, or watercress, rinsed and spun dry
- 2/3 c. walnut halves or pieces, lightly toasted and cooled
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- Up to 3/4 c. mild oil--I use a combination of grapeseed oil and olive oil
- 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
- Salt
- Pepper


1. Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. In the meantime, prepare an ice bath: fill a large mixing bowl with cold water, and add a handful or two of ice. Also have a colander ready.
2. When water is boiling, drop in greens and allow them to cook for about 30 seconds. Immediately drain them in the colander, then transfer them to the ice bath. When cooled, use your hands or a towel to squeeze out as much extra water as possible, then roughly chop.
3. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the walnuts with the garlic until both are mostly chopped. Add the greens and pulse again. Season with salt and pepper. Then, while machine is running, drizzle in the oil, stopping when pesto reaches desired consistency--it should not be too thin. Finally, add the parmesan cheese and pulse to combine. Check for seasoning.

Note: if freezing the pesto, choose a sturdy container that is just big enough, and press a layer of plastic wrap right onto the surface of the pesto before sealing with the lid.