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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ensalada de Nopales

Say whaaaaat???
These couldn't have happened at a better time.  As I was planning a Baja Fish Burrito evening, I spotted nopales in the "exotic" section of my grocery store.  The dormant Baja Abuelita inside of me woke up and ripped out of my ribcage with such fierceness she took control of my nimble fingers and guided me through the process...
Usually, in France, the "exotic" section is Vietnamese, North African, or Antillais.  I usually find basics but then go to specialty stores for actual Chinese or Indian products.  Mexican food is destined to the boxed fajita items and jarred guacamole in the dry section.  Never in my life have I seen Nopales on this side of the Atlantic (which only means I've never seen them, but doesn't mean they're not here, somewhere).
As you may have imagined if you know me by now, I squealed with joy, right in the middle of other grocery shoppers.  It just naturally came out of me.  They were in a small basked next to the okra, and there were probably only 15 pads, spines already removed.  They didn't look the freshest (brown spots and floppiness), and I probably wouldn't have bought them looking like this in the US, but here,  this was the glowing treasure that came all this way just to be prepared by me.  It was a sign with big neon lights and blinking messages of love and tenderness.  It couldn't be any other way.
With all this positive energy happening around me, shoppers started to gather round as I selected about 1 lb of nopales.  
"What is that?"
"Is it edible?"
"How on Earth does one prepare this?"
"Can you describe the taste/texture?"
Everyone was intrigued.  Here in France, they eat the prickly pear fruit (Figue de Barbarie) but nobody would have ever thought to eat the Mickey Mouse Ears (Oreilles de Mickey) as they are called here.  The glory was all mine as I explained how, on top of being delicious, they are very nutritious and provide many health benefits.
So now, off I went for the preparation phase.  I've eaten nopales millions of times, but I'd never prepared or cooked them myself before.  There was always some woman higher up in the hierarchy who had the pleasure of preparing them long before I started to cook for myself.  I looked up boiling times on the internet and let the Baja Abuelita guide me for the rest.
It came from the heart, and it was perfect.

Ensalada de Nopales
Serves 3-4 as a small side salad

Ingredients
500g (approx1lb) whole nopales
To boil:
1/2 onion
2 chile de arboles
2 cloves garlic, peeled
small bunch cilantro (with stems)
pinch salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
lots of freshly ground pepper
To toss:
1 Tbsp minced jalapeno chile (optional)
1 small shallot or 1/4 red onion, minced
handful sliced cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic, grated
juice from 1/2 lime
pinch fleur de sel
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp freshly chopped cilantro leaves
crumbled queso fresco or feta for garnish (optional)
Directions
1.  Prepare the nopales by scraping the spines and as much brown off with a knife.  Cut the stem part off.  Rinse well, then slice them into green bean sized pieces.
2.  Place them in some water with the "to boil" ingredients.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes.  This is to remove the "slime".  They can be eaten raw, but Abuelita said to cook them for my first time.  I still ate a piece raw and it wasn't bad.  I like the texture.
3.  Drain them, remove the boiled onion, garlic, and cilantro, and rinse.  Let cool while you do your other Baja kitchen activities, such as make guacamole, cascabel salsa, mango corn salsa, marinate the fish, make the white sauce, make black beans, rice, etc.  OooOo.
4.  Toss the nopales with the salad ingredients and refrigerate until ready to eat.  This can be a completely vegan salad without the queso fresco.. obviously.

Invite your Baja Abuelita to join you at the table.
This is all thanks to her, by the way..

I had this alongside some Fish Burritos last night.

And then made myself an egg & nopales breakfast burrito this morning.
Best. Breakfast. Of. My. Entire. 33. Years.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Mexican Flan with Rapadura Caramel

My inner Abuelita feels the need to go traditional Mex and my outer Experimental self feels the need to add a touch of Steph... with burned fingertips...
I was recently gifted a package of rapadura, unrefined sugar crystals from sugar cane, also known as panela.  It is blondish brown (not cassonade) and has a deep lasting taste, similar to molasses.  If using sugar at all, it makes sense to use the queen of it all, Rapadura, you will adorn my Flan.

Serves 8 (or fills a 24x10x6 cm mould)

Ingredients
1 cup rapadura (panela) sugar
3 eggs + 3 yolks
1 cup whole milk
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp orange flower water
pinch cinnamon

Directions
1.  Prepare the caramel.  Pour the cup of rapadura sugar into a pan and heat on medium high, continuously stirring, until it melts into a liquid caramel mixture.  The continuous stirring makes sure it doesn't burn, but do not overcook it or it will burn.
2.  Pour the liquid caramel into the bottom of your mould.  Do not wipe the remaining caramel off your utensils with your fingers.  It burns.  I learned that the hard way.
3.  Prepare the flan mixture.  Beat the eggs and yolks together.  Stir the cornstarch into a bit of milk until it dissolves completely and leaves no chunks.  Then add to the eggs and beat well.  Add the rest of the ingredients an beat into a homogenous mixture.
4.  Preheat the oven to 175°C 350°F.  
5.  Pour the flan mixture into the mould over the rapadura caramel.
6.  Place the filled mould in a larger pan and fill the pan halfway up the mould with boiling water.  This is called a Bain-Marie.  Who is Marie?
7.  Cover the entire contraption with foil and place this whole ordeal (carefully) in the oven and cook for 1h10 or until the middle is only slightly jiggly.  I wonder if this would work in the crockpot...
8.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

To serve, slip a sharp knife on all sides of the mould to loosen up the flan from its sheath.  Then, place a serving dish upside-down onto the mould and flip it all over.  It should slide out of the mould onto the dish.. with that lovely rapadura caramel dripping down on the sides.

Serve in slices.. and be satisfied.

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Squid Grilled on the Plancha

When this happens.. I feel I have fully lived my life..

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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Onion, Cabbage and Coconut Tart with Cilantro Chutney

During my bouts of kitchen schizophrenia (yes I talk to my vegetables and yes they talk back to me), I couldn't bring myself to make any sensible clean cut decision.  I was to have some of my favorite French people over for an Appetizer SoirĂ©e and needed several ideas.  Usually, when I do this, I stick to a basic theme.  This time, I wanted it all.
All of it.
It was going to be my united cultures party.
And of course, since the only thing that was missing was the French flag, I put India in a quiche.
Just Brilliant.
I may not have invented the idea, but this recipe is 100% my own.

Serves 6 - 8 as an appetizer
Ingredients
Shortcrust:
100g (3.5 oz) butter
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp chile powder
1 tsp amchur (mango powder)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp salt
100g (3.5 oz) buckwheat flour
120g (4.2 oz) whole wheat flour
1 egg yolk
5 cL water
use the method, then pre-cook for 10 minutes at 190°C 375 °F
Filling:
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp mustard seeds
3 dried red chiles
(if I had curry leaves, I would have added them)
1/4 tsp hing (asafoetida)
1/4 tsp turmeric
4 onions, sliced thinly
1/4 head cabbage, shredded
1/2 cup shredded coconut
few pinches salt
3 small eggs or 2 large
10 cL (3.5 oz) coconut cream
1/2 inch grated ginger

 Directions
1.  Heat the oil in a wok or heavy based pan
2.  Add the mustard seeds and wait for them to crackle before adding the chiles and curry leaves.
3.  Add the hing and turmeric.  They should fizz.  I love that part.
3.  Add the onions and cook on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring.  You want them to slightly color.
4.  Add the shredded cabbage and a few pinches salt.  Cook, stirring, until onions are nice and golden.
5.  Add the shredded coconut and cook, stirring, for another 2-3 minutes.  The dried coconut gets toasty quick, so be careful not to burn it!  Taste, adjust the seasoning, remove the whole chiles so you can add them to your own slice later on, and remove from heat.
6.  While this is happening, whisk together the eggs, coconut cream, and grated ginger.
7.  In your pre-heated shortcrust, lay the onion-cabbage-coconut mixture down and pour the egg mixture evenly over it.
8.  Cook at 180°C 350°F for 35 minutes.. then let it cool down for at least 30 minutes.
Best served warm with some chutney.... the crumbly crust will melt in your mouth and subtly caress your senses.
Who knew this could actually work?
The next day, I had a slice in my thali with some Daal, Urad Pakoras, Papadums, and Cilantro Chutney.
Are you drooling yet?
I am...

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Saturday, July 2, 2016

BBQ Corn on the Cob & Veggie Skewers

 This is how Americans do BBQ.
Good old fashioned corn on the cob with hot sexy skewers of eggplant, bell pepper, cherry tomato, mushroom, and apricot.
And some nicely charred chicken.
My Grill is my new Happy Place

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