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Archive for the ‘condiments’ Category

I came home from the Labor Day weekend with a big bag full of peppers, a gift from a friend with a large and productive garden. I was thrilled – homegrown produce is always welcome – but I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Her husband suggested salsa but I’d just come off a similar project and wasn’t all that interested in making more. I’d already made a delightfully cheesy hatch chile queso dip, but that only used five of the hatch chiles. There we so many more in the bag. So I did what I always do when I’m not sure how to proceed: I googled. “What to make with a lot of peppers” yielded the expected results with recipes for peperonata dominating. No surprise as it is essentially a pepper dish but I was surprised at the lack of variety in the recipes. Italian in origin, peperonata contains slowly stewed sweet peppers, onions, garlic and sometimes tomato, and it is absolutely delicious. But my peppers were mainly Mexican/Southwest in origin – anaheim, poblano, hatch, jalapeno as well as a mess of hungarian yellow. An idea formed. Would a spicy version work? I wasn’t sure but a southwest style peperonata was now in the works.

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I’ve been reading up on “official food holidays”, days dedicated to a particular foodstuff put together by an interested trade organization or a public relations firm. For some reason, January is particularly heavy with these made up “holidays”, which is likely why I turn to them this month. They’ll full of kooky ideas. Last week I made tempura shrimp for “National Tempura Day”, because that’s a thing. Today is “Hot & Spicy Food Day”, because apparently that is also a thing. It also plays quite nicely into a new obsession of mine: Chili Crisp.

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I’ve been eating a lot of watermelon and sweet corn of late. A lot. It’s what we do in the Midwest when the corn is unbelievably good and the watermelons are huge and juicy and we need to eat as much as we can before they’re gone. While cutting up the latest watermelon to make yet another delicious Vietnamese inspired salad (have you tried it yet?), I looked guiltly at the growing pile of rind destined for the garbage can. Damn, watermelons have a lot of waste. This has always bothered me so I decided to try something. I’ve long been curious about Pickled Watermelon Rind. It is the product of thrifty genius, turning waste into something delicious. Why not give it a try? I probably had the ingredients on hand and I was definitely looking for a distraction to avoid work for another hour. What was there to lose? A pile of produce scraps that was going in the garbage anyway, some vinegar and spices and an hour of my time? Ever hear of procrasti-baking? This was procrasti-pickling. The conditions were ideal.

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This recipe has been stalking me. True story. It first appeared in The New York Times in October of 2017 and has shown up in my social media feeds regularly ever since. Last summer it showed up in my feeds every single week for two months. Maybe it’s stalked you too. Every single time that bright green sauce caught my eye I thought, I’m going to make that one day. Well, that day is here. I needed something to bring to a holiday BBQ and thought, well here we go.

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In my teens, I had a deep love for a particular type of pickled cauliflower. It was bright yellow, briny, a little spicy and I would eat it by the jarful. Sometimes it had carrots, sometimes it was just the cauliflower. Sometimes my mom would buy a jar of what was more like a chunky giardinara that contained the cauliflower and carrots but also pearl onions, celery and cherry peppers. I didn’t like that as much and would pick out and eat only the cauliflower and carrots, leaving the less desirable bits behind. This would really piss off my family. Oh well.

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Not long ago, I was flipping through Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, Michael Solomonov’s excellent cookbook based on recipes from his Philadelphia restaurant of the same name. His hummus is legendary, rightly so, and the twice cooked eggplant is something to behold. I was fascinated with a recipe for a Yemenite condiment called schug. I have zero knowledge of Yemenite cuisine and the recipe sounded fantastic – green chilies and lots of fresh parsley and cilantro. Given that I had a lot of the ingredients on hand from my garden plot that needed a purpose, I decided to give it a shot.

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Everybody I know seems to be dealing with zucchini right now. ‘Tis the season when random surprise gifts show up on your doorstep and where you find yourself googling “what to do with giant zucchini”. It happens like clockwork. You can sauté it, grill it or stuff it. Or you can pickle it.

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I left work not long ago to these fatal words: “Can you do something with this? Take it.” This is exactly how I end up with so much stuff. Both my freezers are packed with things obtained in this manner, not to mention my cupboards and three large plastic totes in my dining room. Oh boy, here we go again. I can never turn down ingredients. It is a blessing and a curse and how I found myself with with two containers of crème frâiche and no plan.

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I don’t know where I first learned of toum, the wonderfully addictive Lebanese garlic sauce and I’ve been wracking my brain the last few days to remember. I thought it might have been David Lebovitz or maybe a Splendid Table podcast. I honestly cannot remember but however it happened, I eventually found myself on the Splendid Table website reading Bonnie Benwick’s recipe from the Washington Post, salivating and wanting to know more. When a post starts “Requirement: Must Love Garlic”, sign me up.

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I like my chili with some heat. In reading a lot of chili powder labels at the grocery store, I noticed that most contain the following: paprika, cumin, cayenne, oregano, salt and garlic and/or onion powders. Though paprika is legitimately a chile, I don’t think of it as a chili powder chile. Is that a legit statement? Who knows but for me, paprika is in paprikash, Spanish tapas dishes and sprinkled on top of twice baked potatoes. I don’t know that I want it making up the bulk of my go-to chili powder. Where are the actual chilies? I’ve always been fascinated by the bags in Hispanic grocery stores – the ancho, the pasilla, the guajillo chilies. Why aren’t those in most chili powders? They’re rather inexpensive so I can’t imagine it’s a cost issue. The only thing I can come up with is that paprika is rather mild so it appeals to a larger audience. Also, with only one chile, it makes for easy production. It also makes it boring, with no complex layering of flavors. Why make it interesting when you don’t have to? BAH.

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