In summers past I have felt disappointed in myself. I wake up to find that Labor Day has arrived and I haven’t made enough pies, snuck rhubarb into enough desserts, or eaten enough berries. I didn’t take advantage of the deep red tomatoes or experience that joy that washes over you when you cut into a melon to find that *yes it is perfect*. This summer has not been one of those summers. This summer I am oh so proud of myself. Maybe it’s finally having a garden that really got me in the summer produce spirit. Maybe it’s the fact that, now that we don’t have roommates, I have a whole fridge that I can pack full of these beauties. I have been stuffing our meals to the brim with whatever is seasonal and bright.
I’ve started hearing the rumblings. I’m sure you have too, or maybe you’ve been the one whispering about your excitement for sweaters, for long pants (which I’ll admit sounds appealing), for changing leaves. And while I am definitely ready for my apartment to not be 90° every afternoon (thank goodness for the air conditioner we got last week), I am not ready to let go of all this beautiful produce. So I’ll keep relishing it until you can’t smell the peaches the moment you walk into the produce section at the grocery store, until the tomatoes are no longer juicy just under their shiny skin. But while you have the tomatoes and the heat, I recommend breaking out your grill to make this grilled tomatillo salsa to snack on on those hot afternoons. The spice will make you sweat, but I hear that’s cooling anyway.
At the end of October, we took a trip to Mexico. My mom rented a house in Sayulita for a couple of weeks (we were only there for 1 week), and we spent our days swimming in the ocean, reading, swimming in the pool, and eating a lot of incredibly delicious Mexican food. Perhaps my favorite thing about our trip was all of the seafood, particularly shrimp. I am a big fan of shrimp, especially when they’re cooked to perfection and slathered in butter and garlic. Another amazing preparation that we ate (at least 3 times in a week) was chile relleno stuffed with shrimp.
Knowing that I love to cook, my mom asked one of the housekeepers from the complex to come over one night to do a kind of cooking lesson with us. Maria was fantastic – funny, smart, and an incredible cook. I think she was surprised that we a) wanted to help so much with the cooking and b) that, amongst us, we knew a fair amount of Spanish! She said that many of people she cooks for say they want to practice their Spanish, but don’t actually end up talking with her that much. But Jonah is fluent in Spanish, and my mom and sister aren’t half bad either.
Maria showed up to our house at 5 o’clock, and immediately got to work boiling tomatoes and peppers, roasting poblanos, and chopping away. I’m going to focus on the recipe for Chile Relleno stuffed with shrimp, but she also made us Mahi Mahi with garlic, 3 different salsas (one mild, one hot, and one pico de gallo, or salsa Mexicana, as she called it), beans, rice, guacamole, tortillas, and flan.
And thankfully, after cooking for us in the very hot kitchen, she joined us at the table. Maria made 6 peppers, so I’ll give you roughly that recipe. She didn’t measure a single thing, so a lot of this is my own guess work.
Chile Relleno with Shrimp
1 poblano pepper per person you’re feeding. 6 people? 6 peppers.
1/4 lb shrimp per pepper
~3/4 cup all purpose flour (for coating the peppers)
4 eggs, separated
First things first. Roast the peppers. If you’ve got a gas stove, you can do this right on top of the burner. If you don’t have a gas stove, turn on your broiler, and put the peppers on a pan in the oven. Keep a close eye on them. Either way, you’ll want to turn them (with tongs) every minute or so. You want the skin to char and blister. Once they’re charred, you can either put them in a bowl and cover it, or use Maria’s fantastic technique: tie them up in a plastic bag. You want the peppers to steam up, which will help soften them and loosen the charred skin. After allowing them to sit for about 10 minutes, peel and seed the peppers. Seed them by making a lengthwise cut along one side, and cutting out the seeds with a small knife. You want to leave the stem in tact.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the shrimp, and boil until pink, but still tender. Drain and sprinkle with salt. Gently stuff the peppers with the shrimp. Put the flour on a large plate, and coat each pepper in flour. Set aside.
In a bowl, whip egg whites until foamy, but not quite till peaks form. Add the yolks, whip some more. Heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a (preferably non-stick) pan over medium heat. You’re going to cook your peppers one at a time, so it may not be a bad idea to set your oven to 200 degrees and put a pan in there to put the finished peppers on, so they’ll still be warm. When the oil is hot, coat a pepper in egg mixture, and place it in the pan. Now you’re going to kind of baste the pepper with oil. Using a spoon or a spatula, gently splash the hot oil up onto the pepper, so that even the part not touching the oil cooks a bit. Continue to turn the pepper and “baste” until the egg is nice and browned. Place in the oven, and repeat with the rest of the peppers.
Again, it’s been a little while. But you guys, I have so much food to share with you! There has been much eating lately. And good eating too. YUM. This first recipe is a super easy recipe from Martha that was adapted into chicken tacos. Originally it was just the cayenne-rubbed chicken with avocado salsa, but everything is better in a tortilla (and sprinkled with cholula), am I right? So chicken tacos it is. This meal was so simple because we had everything except the chicken and the avocado. I love quick and easy trips to the grocery store that don’t require you to buy too much stuff for a meal.
Chicken Tacos with Cayenne and Avocado Salsa
salt and ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (you can use breast too, but we like dark meat a little better, plus it’s cheaper)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 Hass avocado, pitted and cut into chunks
tortillas of your choosing (the little taco ones are good for this)
other condiments (think sour cream, cholula, salsa if you want, cheese…)
In a small bowl, combine 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and cayenne, mix to combine. Rub this spice mixture all over the chicken. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until cooked through and browned on the outside. Shouldn’t take too long (think 10-15 minutes). My trick with chicken is to cook it with a lid on the pan to get it cooked through, and then once it’s cooked through, take of the lid and turn up the heat a little bit to get the nice browned outside.
While the chicken is cooking, put the onion and lime juice in a bowl, and cut up the avocado. You can also heat up your tortillas now, which I did by throwing ours in a lightly greased pan, flipping them, and then storing them between two plates so they stayed warm. Just before serving, fold the avocado pieces into the onion mixture and season with salt and pepper. Serve and enjoy!
The other night, dinner rolled around, and I was feeling incredibly lazy. Nothing that I could think of eating actually sounded good to me, so I put Jonah in charge. There’s a restaurant here in Portland called Por Que Non that has really good Mexican food. They have this dish called a Bryan’s Bowl that is just a bowl of delicious rice and beans and meat and cheese and guacamole and salsa and everything you could ever want in a little bowl. It’s incredibly good. So Jonah suggested making something like the Bryan’s Bowl, and I was not particularly optimistic, because usually when restaurants have something like that they have some secret delicious sauce they pour over it to make it so freaking good. And we didn’t. But…oh well. So he searched something or other on the internet and found this recipe for Cilantro Lime Rice to use as the base for our Mexican bowls. And man oh man, it made all the difference.
Mexican Rice Bowls
Cilantro Lime Rice
1 cup uncooked white rice
1 teaspoon butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp plus 1 Tbl lime juice, freshly squeezed is highly preferred
1 15-oz can vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup water
2 tsp granulated sugar
4 Tbl fresh chopped cilantro
Mexican Rice Bowl
Cilantro Lime Rice
Chopped Red Onion
Chopped tomato (or salsa)
Chopped avocado (or guacamole)
Cilantro Lime Rice
Let’s start with the rice. Put the rice, butter, garlic, 2 tsp of lime juice, broth, and water in a pan. Bring the contents to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cover and cook the rice until it’s tender (about 15-20 minutes). While the rice is cooking, mix the leftover Tbl of lime juice with the sugar and cilantro. When the rice is done, remove it from the heat and stir in the cilantro/lime mixture.
Mexican Rice Bowl
While the rice is cooking you can also prep the rest of your ingredients for your bowl. We drained the beans and just heated them in the microwave, chopped the onions, and got out the salsa, guacamole, sour cream, cholula, and some tortilla chips.
Now it’s time to assemble your bowl. I did mine kind of like you would if it were the filling of a burrito, making even layers of all the ingredients I wanted. I also used my bowl as kind of a layered dip and ate it with tortilla chips for an added bit of crunch. Oh man. I may not have been in the mood for this meal at the beginning of the evening, but it really hit the spot! Enjoy!