Pomelo Salad

Monday, December 15, 2014

About two weeks ago, I was wandering around the produce section of the grocery store in awe, as usual. I’m still not over the abundance of choice we get here. When I was fresh off the boat back in June, it was so easy to be critical of the size of everything, including the sky, and, apparently, the produce section at the grocery store. The first few times I mowed Mary Ellen’s lawn, I’d curse its enormity, and the invisible property line between her plot and her neighbor’s. Who needs this much grass anyway?! I’d mutter, while thinking of cancer and exhaust fumes and how crotchety I was becoming. Little by little, daily life chipped away at that, as it must, and I became a little more fun to have around. If you treat undesirable tasks as a chance to be mindful–mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, or segmenting a pomelo, say–it’s amazing how things change. I say this not because I’m the most mindful person on the planet, not the millionth most probably, but because I’ve learned to become mindful out of self-preservation. Without it, I’d be a ringer for Melvin Udall.


Pink pomelos are in season in the States now, and they are so much worth seeking. Have you seen them around? They look like oversized grapefruits, but they’ve got much thicker skin and sweeter flesh. Protected by thick and bitter pith, the pomelo becomes edible only when peeled and segmented, so it takes a little effort to prepare. A sharp knife with a non-serated blade makes it easier, but otherwise there’s no quick way to go about it. Segmenting citrus is a lot like butchering meat. You’ve got to slice through the tough sinewy bits with a delicate but steady hand to get to the gold, and it is so worth it once you do.

I didn’t know what I would make when I brought home that pomelo those few weeks ago, and it sat on the counter until last Saturday before I turned to Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking. Tony and Niki lent the book to me when I’d just come home from Korea and a couple of weeks in Vietnam. I went back to the store for more pomelos just for this salad, which is the perfect example of the textural wealth of Vietnamese food. Bitter greens offset by flecks of mint, punchy citrus, crispy sweet shallots, and sweet, sour, hot vinaigrette. A good starter salad, this would be great before a hot bowl of pho. In fact, that’s exactly how we had it for dinner last Saturday (Tony made the pho, Niki made the cocktails, and I brought the salad). I urge you to try this at home while pomelos are in season. I’ll try to work on a recipe for pho in the meantime. Have a super week.

Pomelo Salad from Vietnamese Home Cooking (makes enough for 6 side salads)
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon shallot oil* (or other neutral tasting oil)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon minced Thai chili
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large pomelos
6 cups frisée (I couldn’t find frisée, so I used a combination of radicchio, romaine, and endive)
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup chopped spearmint
fried shallots

*to make shallot oil, heat 1 cup avocado oil (or your pick of high-heat oil) in a saucepan. When oil is up to temp (about 275 degrees F) add 1 cup sliced shallots and stir until golden brown (about 8 minutes). Remove shallots and drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Strain the oil to remove bits of shallot left behind. The oil will keep for several weeks in the fridge. The shallots should be eaten the same day.

First, segment the pomelos. Using a sharp knife and a cutting board, cut both ends off one pomelo so that it can stand upright. Then, stand the pomelo on the board and slice downward to remove the skin and outer pith. If you don’t reach the flesh on the first try, just restart at the top and slice downward again. The skin might be thicker than you first expect. Then, holding the fruit in your non-dominant hand, cut along both sides of each segment. Look carefully for thin lines of pith to find each segment–some lines will be paper thin. You’ll know you’ve cut away the pith when you’ve got pieces of clear, jewel-hued fruit in your hand. Don’t worry if the segments fall apart because you’re going to cut them into bite-sized pieces. Repeat with each pomelo, and discard all the skin and pith.

Second, make the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, shallot oil, fish sauce, sugar, chile, salt, and 1 tablespoon water until the sugar dissolves.


Third, combine the frisée, red onion, mint, and pomelo chunks. Pour the dressing over it all and toss gently to coat. Drop fried shallots over the top and serve.

#cookwithmusic: Work Song by Hozier

Beet Hummus

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Do you know what the overnight low was for the Twin Cities last night? Two. Two degrees.


Year after frigid year, Minnesotans soldier through winter with a steady kind of pride. There is a charm to their manic ways, even if it makes me feel inferior. I grumble to my car, shake my fist at another gray sky, and take note of their exuberance as they chip ice from their windshields and their beards. While they jog next to ice-slicked streets, cheeks flushed and ponytails swinging, I stand shivering from our tiny porch, puffing the one cigarette I allow myself each week, staring through a web of spindly branches to a setting sun that colors the sky ombre, until the steady pock pock of running shoes slices clean through the belly of winter silence. The sound draws my gaze downward to seek the perpetrator, this loony human being who dares to exercise in these extreme conditions. Smoke curls skyward from chimneys, lights glow from windows, and we all scurry like mice to keep warm and stay busy. After a fresh snowfall, this neighborhood is a living snow globe. I take walks for better views, because it’s the closest thing I will get to running in the cold, and because I like to look in the windows of people’s houses. From the sidewalk.

Until we emerge from this monochromatic stretch of gray, white, and slush, I say we search for color elsewhere. Are you in? Because I~~~’ve got something for YOU.

beet hummus

I’ve been tinkering with beet hummus for a few weeks now. Roast the beets or keep them raw? Roast. Puree them smooth or keep them textured? Textured. Blend the beets with the hummus? No, swirl them. And then there was the question of sumac. Sumac is a flowering plant that produces bright crimson berries, and these berries are ground into a tart powder often added to hummus, rice, salad, or kebab. Some sumac plants are poisonous. I bought a small jar of it (the un-poisonous kind) with the intention of making za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend of sumac, thyme, and sesame seeds. One day, za’atar will be made, but until then, I will stare at this jar and try to dream up other ways of working through it besides sprinkling it over scrambled eggs. The usual. Any ideas?


Onto the reason we’re here–the hummus. If you don’t make hummus from scratch, this will sound like a pretty simple recipe, and it is. I wanted it to be easy and pretty, but with a couple of optional twists that could be added at the end to make it special. Sumac is tangy, bright, and really nice against the earthy sweetness of the beets. A garnish of fresh rosemary would not be very pleasant to bite, but a few crispy fried leaves is something else entirely. If you want to skip either the sumac or the rosemary, or both, you’ll still have a pretty bowl of hummus. The olive oil, though, is a must.

Beets are in season when we need their nutritional benefits and stunning color the most. Folate is good for detoxification, and it promotes cardiovascular, neural, and psycho-emotional health. Manganese supports bone health, fertility, and memory. Potassium keeps our brains functioning, stabilizes blood sugar, boosts metabolism, and helps us naturally regulate stress. If you need more reasons to eat more beets, you might consider Tom Robbins’ ode to the root. From Jitterbug Perfume:

~“Of course, there are white beets, beets that ooze sugar water instead of blood, but it is the red beet with which we are concerned; the variety that blushes and swells like a hemorrhoid, a hemorrhoid for which there is no cure. (Actually, there is one remedy: commission a potter to make you a ceramic asshole­–and when you aren’t sitting on it, you can use it as a bowl for borscht.)

An old Ukrainian proverb warns, “A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil.”

This is a risk we have to take.”~

Happy Thanksgiving to you, to the ones you love, and to the people with whom you’re ambivalent.

beet hummus

Beet Hummus with Sumac

hummus (store bought or homemade)
roasted beets*
extra virgin olive oil
fried rosemary leaves**

In a bowl, combine hummus with chopped roasted beets. Stir to swirl. Add a mandatory glug of olive oil. Sprinkle with sumac and fried rosemary, if desired. Serve with pita, blanched or raw vegetables, sliced apples, olives. Anything you’d like to dip with.

*To roast beets:
Rub unpeeled, whole beets with salt, wrap in foil, and roast at 400 degrees F until a knife can easily pierce through the center of each beet. Let them cool, then peel them, then pulse in a food processor or chop by hand to a small, rough dice.

**To fry rosemary:
Pick leaves from a branch (about 12-15, or more if you want to have extra on hand to sprinkle over soup–highly recommended). Set a plate with a paper towel next to the stove (this is to drain the oil from the rosemary once it’s done frying). Heat a skillet, then pour in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Use avocado oil, coconut oil, or another oil that can withstand higher temperatures. When the oil is heated, add rosemary leaves. Stir them to coat in oil, then let them get crisp. This takes seconds, so be sure to keep a close watch. Carefully transfer to the paper toweled plate to let the excess oil be absorbed.

Reading and Eating Lists

Monday, November 3, 2014

Winter reading list

What’s on your reading list this season?

In anticipation of winter, I’ve been gathering books like a rabid squirrel hoarding nuts. Do rabid squirrels even eat nuts, or, once bitten, do they turn into carnivores? Now there’s an under rated topic in the blogosphere. Moving on.

Almost always, the books I read have been recommended by friends, and that’s true for each of these. How do you choose your books, and do you have any that you can’t wait to crack?

On the list:
Blue Plate Special, a food-focused memoir by the great Kate Christensen.

Population: 485 by Michael Perry, a true account of the author’s return to his hometown of New Auburn, Wisconsin.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, about the many possible lives of one woman born in 1910.

Eating on the Wild Side, a gift from Niki, a book about selecting and preparing foods to recover lost nutrition and flavor, by Jo Robinson.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, the story of one lieutenant’s heroic journey and survival after his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific during World War II.

The Year of Magical Thinking. Joan Didion’s thoughts during the year following her husband’s death.

The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh, a novel of “adventure, identity, unlikely love, and history” set among the tiny islands of Sundarbans in the Bay of Bengal. MJ’s recommendation. When MJ recommends, I know enough to take her word.

Sometimes I’ll stop at a bakery for a baguette and end up eating three quarters of it in the car on the way home from work. And sometimes I make lists of recipes, including a couple of less irrational choices, mostly to try to avoid the baguette situation.
In the recipe queue:

Beet Caviar
Olive Oil Ice Cream
Bánh xèo
The Best Apple Pie He’s Ever Made
A Gibson
Cinnamon Sleep Tonic

Have a lovely week. xx

Corn-Salad Plenty



Agua de Jamaica

Sunday, October 26, 2014


What a week! Did you guys see the solar eclipse? Niki brought over a homemade viewer she fashioned from an old Riedel glass tube and some tinfoil. If you positioned it just right, with the tinfoil end pointed at the sun, and peeked through the square cut from one side to the inside of the other, you could catch a glimpse of a tiny crescent shaped sun under the thumb of the moon.

solar eclipse

My brother turned 29 this week, and next week my dad will turn 79. It has been years since we’ve celebrated either of their birthdays together, as we’re rarely in the same city at the same time. John is in Phoenix now, but my dad and I will go out to dinner in a few days with John in spirit. My dad’ll want to go to his favorite sports bar so he can hit on the prettiest female staff members while sharing a plate of loaded nachos. He’ll drink three, maybe four, frosted mugs of Michelob Golden Light. Depending on how busy they are, the ladies will either humor him or give a rushed hello, leaving him chuckling and me shaking my head, still wondering if I’ll ever reach a point where I won’t feel like bolting when he does this. He is a young 79, I remind myself, and that’s a very lucky thing.

I promised you the recipe for the Margarita of the Year, and today is the day. But first, we need to talk about agua frescas, the Mexican alternative to a lemonade stand on a sweltering afternoon. There are limitless combinations of agua fresca flavors: pineapple, cucumber, spinach and lime, watermelon, strawberry, various herbs and edible flowers. Agua de Jamaica is made with dried hibiscus flowers, sugar, and water. So simple. You steep the hibiscus flowers in water for about twenty or thirty minutes, and then you strain out the flowers and mix in some sugar so that you’re left with a tangy, concentrated syrup that looks like wine.

aguadejamaica1To make a hibiscus margarita, you make the syrup first. Then, you pour a glug of silver tequila, some Cointreau and fresh lime juice with some of the syrup over ice. Both recipes are from Roberto Santibanez’s book Taco’s, Tortas, and Tamales, which takes inspiration from Mexico’s streetside kitchens. People keep talking about hot cider and other spiced, wintry drinks, but as long as the weather holds out like it’s been doing in Minneapolis, so will I.

Agua de Jamaica (makes 8 tall glasses) from Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales
2 cups (about 3 ounces) dried hibiscus flowers
3/4 to 1 cup sugar

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Add the hibiscus flowers, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the flowers steep for 20 or 30 minutes. Then strain the liquid through a sieve into a large pitcher, pressing the flowers to extract as much juice as possible. Discard the flowers, or save them to float in the pitcher when serving. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. **Stop here and chill the syrup for margaritas if making them. The syrup will keep for a week in the fridge.** Pour in 5 cups of water, stir, and season to taste with sugar. My friend Rocio suggested using sparkling water instead of flat, and less sugar (just 3/4 of a cup), and I liked it best this way.

Chill the pitcher in the fridge, then pour the agua fresca into ice-filled glasses or refrigerate for up to three days.

Margarita de Jamaica (Hibiscus Margarita) adapted from Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales
Hibiscus syrup  (see recipe above)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons silver tequila
1/2 cup Cointreau (or triple sec)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
ice cubes

Combine the tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, 1 1/2 cups of the hibiscus syrup, and 2 cups of ice in a pitcher. Stir well. Roberto recommends stirring for a full minute, and says it’s important that some of the ice dissolves in the drink. Then pour immediately into 6 glasses full of ice and rimmed with salt, if desired. Top with a few of the reserved hibiscus flowers.
aguadejamaica2 aguadejamaica4

Tangy Guacamole Enchiladas

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Roberto Santibanez Truly Mexican Guacamole

Like many Midwestern Americans, I’d venture to guess, my first exposure to Mexican food was convenient, bastardized, and required no cooking at all, unlike the seventy-nine cent frozen burritos we’d zap for dinner once a week. Then, you might ask, could it even be called Mexican food? Probably not. But these were the late eighties, when microwavable TV dinners, velour, and Zubas were all the rage. Tastes were questionable, bad decisions forgivable. Taco John’s was somewhere between the hundred miles of road from our house to the town where my grandparents raised my mom and her sisters. Every single time we made the trip, we’d stop there for hard shell beef tacos and Potato Olés®, those crispy euphoric hashbrown rounds.

Somewhere along the way, thank Christ, I learned the difference between a real taco and a taco that is not. How to make good guacamole. How to ruin a pair of contact lenses while mincing a jalapeño. Sometimes, I wish I had never acquired a taste for fast food, but the seed was planted early. Even if I know better now, sometimes I want to rebel.

Cooking curbs those cravings, in part because it gives me time to reassess what I love about food. It keeps me present, or it transports me, depending on what’s on the stove. Cooking connects us, too, like collective projects tend to do. My new friend Rocio and I met a few weeks ago, while prepping for a big farm dinner in Ham Lake. Rocio is from Cuernavaca, Mexico, and she’s an avid home cook, so it didn’t take us long to land on the topic of food. Pretty soon, we got to talking about our mutual love for the recipes in Truly Mexican. We made plans to fix dinner together, and last week, she came over with her husband Matt to make enchiladas from the book. They brought a homemade hibiscus syrup, which Matt stirred with tequila and triple for the best margarita Annie said she’s had in years. Rocio got to work on the guacamole, and I pureed our tomatillos and chiles for sauce. About three hours later, dinner was ready.

And I came to a conclusion: Mexican food was never meant to be fast. It was meant to be cooked cooperatively. Make this fun. Pull some friends into it and make it an evening. Don’t forget the margaritas (I’ll be back with that recipe for Matt’s, if he’s willing to give it up).

Roberto Santibanez Truly Mexican Guacamole Enchiladas

Guacamole Enchiladas with Guajillo-Tomatillo Beef Sauce (from Truly Mexican)
1 pound tomatillos (10-12), husked and rinsed
3 ounces guajillo chiles (about 12), wiped clean, stemmed, slit open, seeded, and deveined (find these at any Mexican market)
4 cups water, or more
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 teaspoon aniseed
1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon fine salt)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef (or 1 1/4 pounds finely chopped beef sirloin or chuck, trimmed)
12 corn tortillas
guacamole (recipe below)
1/4 cup oil for frying (sunflower, coconut, or vegetable)

Put the tomatillos and chiles in a medium heavy-bottomed pot, add 4 cups of water (enough to cover the tomatillos), and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Lower the heat and simmer gently, turning the tomatillos and chiles occasionally, until the tomatillos have turned tender, and from lime green to khaki-green in color, about fifteen minutes. They should still be in tact. Gently drain the tomatillos and chiles with a sieve and large pot. (Take care to keep the tomatillos in tact). Also, reserve the cooking liquid.

Put the tomatillos and chiles in a blender. Add the garlic, aniseed, oregano, salt, and about 1/4 cup of cooking liquid. Don’t fill the blender; instead, work in batches. Cover the blender jar with its top, and cover its top with a towel. Hold firmly and blend. Strain the sauce through a sieve to catch the chile skins and seeds (as the photos will show, I forgot this step).

Wipe the original pot clean, and heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in it. Gently pour the sauce into the oil, and let the sauce simmer, stirring often, until it’s thickened slightly, 5-7 minutes.

Add the rest of the reserved cooking liquid and return the sauce to a boil. Add the beef, stirring to break up the meat, and simmer hard. Simmer and stir until the sauce has just thickened to the consistency of a thin Bolognese, or Sloppy Joe mixture. Season with salt, and keep the sauce warm.

Soften the tortillas by heating a few tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a frying pan. Place one tortilla in the oil let it hang out for about 8 seconds. Carefully, with tongs, flip and let the other side fry for a few more seconds. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel, then roll each tortilla with 2 tablespoons of guacamole. Spoon the beef sauce generously over each plate of enchiladas.

Guacamole (from Truly Mexican)
2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeño, including seeds
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon fine salt)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 ripe Hass avocados, halved, pitted, and chopped (skins removed)
a squeeze of lime

Mash the onion, chile, salt, and half the cilantro into a paste. Add avocados, lime, and the rest of the cilantro. Toss, then mash it all, and add additional salt or chile to taste.