Macha, Macha, Wo/Man

I distinctly remember my first encounter with salsa macha because it was a completely confounding experience. Staring at this strange, violently red jar of oily seeds, it was introduced to me as “seed salsa.” Up to that point, “salsa” had only been used to describe mixtures of finely minced vegetables, sometimes fruits, accompanying Mexican food. Usually tomato-based, fresh and punchy, I couldn’t connect the dots between that condiment and this one.

Taking the tiniest spoonful to test the waters, I watched rivulets of glistening toasted seeds ooze down my plate, soaking into everything it touched. One bite, and I was hooked. Instantly regretting that timid serving, I bellied up to the bar again and again, dousing my entire meal until my lips tingled and my nose turned red from the heat. It’s the good kind of pain the unlocks all sorts of endorphins, creating an undeniably addictive experience.

The allure owes something about the combination of textures and tastes, with toothsome, crunchy seeds tumbled together in this slick miasma of fiery, nutty, tangy oil. It doesn’t sound like it should work on paper, but it exceeds all expectations in real life. Suspend doubt long enough to give it a try, stop trying to put it to words; you’ll understand in an instant.

What is salsa macha?

Consider it Mexican chili crisp; spicy, savory, and impossibly addictive. Salsa macha is an oil-based condiment that goes with just about everything. It was born in the Mexican states of Veracruz and Oaxaca. As one might guess, the name is derived from the feminine version of “macho,” resulting in gender ambiguity, and its base recipe is ripe for tweaking.

Naturally, I had to take my rendition in a completely inauthentic direction that most people would say has gone off the rails. Sorry, not sorry. It all started with an extra bottle of everything bagel seasoning, when I realized that half the ingredients I needed were all neatly bundled together within. Why not take that idea and run with it? Thus, Everything Bagel Salsa Macha was born.

Most salsa macha recipes are at least slightly blended after cooking, but I wanted mine totally chunky and extra crunchy. You could always pulse the mixture briefly in the food processor to break it down a bit, or completely puree it for a smoother sauce. Make it your own! The only rules for salsa macha is that it must contain chilies, seeds, nuts, and oil. Everything else is up for interpretation.

How can you use salsa macha?

Basically, anything edible is a viable canvas for this chunky, seedy salsa. A few of my favorites and top suggestions for this particular variation include:

  • Bagel with cream cheese
  • Avocado toast
  • Tofu scramble
  • Hummus
  • Pizza
  • Pasta
  • Rice pilaf
  • Grilled or roasted vegetables

Like some of the best things in life, the flavors in salsa macha continue to develop and deepen over time. It’s fantastic right away, enjoyed while still warm, but continues to improve over the coming days. Don’t try to keep it too long, though; the garlic and seeds prevent it from keeping longer than 1 – 2 weeks in the fridge without turning rancid. Of course, that deadline is unlikely to pose a problem. I can barely keep a jar around for more than three days.

Continue reading “Macha, Macha, Wo/Man”

Best of the Worcestershire

It’s hard to pronounce, tough to describe, and even harder to find without animal products. Worcestershire sauce is a flavor enhancer that instantly boosts a wide range of dishes, but is still largely misunderstood.

Making a splash on the culinary scene in the mid-1800’s, this mysterious fermented condiment was invented in Worcestershire, England and debuted by the Lea & Perrins company. Still the leading brand on the market, few worthy competitors have stepped up to the plate. This leaves a gaping hole in the grocery aisle, especially for vegans and those with food sensitivities. That’s because the original formula uses anchovies as the not-so-secret ingredient. While plant-based alternatives do exist, they can still be elusive in mainstream markets.

It’s time we take Worcestershire back. For that distinctive, addictive umami flavor, nothing compares to the power of dried Sugimoto shiitake powder. Despite its earthy origin, this potent food booster doesn’t taste like mushrooms, so you don’t need to worry about your sauce tasting off-key. Enhancing the natural flavors already present rather than adding its own distinctive essence, it’s like magical fairy dust that you really should be using in all of your favorite recipes.

The full power of that umami dynamo is unlocked over time, which makes it especially well-suited for this sauce. Aged and lightly fermented, the savory qualities become even more robust over the course of a few weeks. Though you could very happily enjoy this sauce after just a day or two, your patience will be rewarded in a world of rich umami later on.

How can you you use your homemade awesome sauce? Some of the most classic examples include:

Commercial Worcestershire sauce tends to be much sweeter and more flat, whereas this homemade version is carefully balanced, tangy and tart, punchy and deeply nuanced. Once you give it a try, you’ll never want to go without it again. Luckily, it keeps almost indefinitely in the fridge, stored in an airtight glass bottle. Double or triple the recipe to stay stocked up at all times.

With the right pantry staples on hand, it’s easier, cheaper, and tastier to just do it yourself.

Continue reading “Best of the Worcestershire”

Love Notes to Oats

Oats are no joke. No longer mere breakfast fodder, they’re the biggest thing since soy, almond, and cashew combined. Where other alternative milk once struggled to gain a foothold, oat milk strides confidently forward, breaking down the doors that previously separated plant-based options from the mainstream menu. It’s not just the cream in your coffee, or milk in your cereal, either; everyday it seems, this old dog is learning new tricks.

Excelling at each culinary test, sweet or savory, you’re liable to find oats in your ice cream, oats in your butter, and even oats in your tacos. Each innovative application is bolder than the last and exponentially more successful. The only thing surprising about the meteoric rise of oats is that it took so long in the first place.

Rich and creamy once blended, it satisfies without the need for expensive, potentially allergenic nuts, fatty oils, or added thickeners. Neutral in taste, it’s the silent partner to any featured flavors, no matter how subtle. From a sustainability standpoint, few crops can beat it for efficiency and yields, even for a bad harvest. It’s no wonder the world has fallen in love with this humble grain.

What does surprise me are the random holes in the market where oats haven’t yet sprouted. While the dairy cases are practically lined with oat straw and husks, the aisle of dressings is utterly barren by contrast. Conventional blends of mayonnaise and mysterious emulsifiers still reign supreme, seemingly untouched by the shift towards plant-based improvements. For me, it’s just one of many reasons to leave the bottles on the shelf and whip up your own dressings at home.

Green Goddess dressing is one of my favorite toppings for an equally verdant bowlful of vegetables. Bright, zesty, bold, and herbaceous, it simply tastes bracingly, invigoratingly fresh. Perfect for spring and summer, especially as tender herbs proliferate. Usually I start with avocado as the base, but now that I’ve found oats, I’m happy to dice those buttery fruits as rich, chunky toppers instead.

The list of healthy hashtags for this one could fill a novel; vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, soy-free, fat-free, corn-free, and so on, and so forth. In spite of all that it excludes, it doesn’t lack a single thing when it comes to taste or texture. Naturally thick and creamy yet incredibly light on the palate, it’s the best of all words, without making any compromises.

I, for one, welcome our new oat overlords. Even if they are bent on world domination, we may just be better off under that kind of innovative, adaptive, all-inclusive leadership.

Continue reading “Love Notes to Oats”

Fiery Love Affair

For a spicy gift that will really set your Valentine’s heart aflame, skip the chocolates this year in favor of a more fiery expression of adoration. Chili crisp is the all-purpose condiment that makes every dish irresistible, even if it’s just a bowlful of plain white rice. Heck, you could spoon it over scoops of vanilla ice cream for dessert with equal success, too.

It’s not just for heat seekers hell-bent on toeing the line between pain and pleasure. Aromatics blend in a delicate balance of nuanced flavors, far more complex than your average hot sauce. Satisfying bites of garlic and shallot define the uniquely crunchy texture, while cinnamon, anise, and ginger, create a symphony of complex seasoning.

Ubiquitous in specialty grocers and online, Lao Gan Ma, (老干妈) or “old godmother” is the brand to beat. This simple red labeled jar has dominated the market since its inception in 1997. Cheap, accessible, deeply satisfying across the board; it’s the gold standard that’s hard to beat. That said, anything homemade always has an edge over the competition.

I’m far from the first to take a DIY approach to chili crisp, nor can I claim to have reinvented the concept. I didn’t even rewrite the recipe. Rather, I took a page from Bon Appetit and would implore you to do the same. Show someone you really care by going the extra mile to make a superlative spicy Valentine this year. The best way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, and this one will really set their passion ablaze.

Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

One week into autumn, and I already feel like I’ve overdosed on pumpkin spice lattes. Granted, my tolerance for the intensely sweet, largely over-hyped drink is far lower than the average enthusiast, but it doesn’t help that it’s already been perking up coffee shop menus while summer was still in full swing. Is it just me, or has the #PSL craze died down a bit this time around? Fewer rants, fewer raves; love it or hate it, I fear we may have collectively reached peak pumpkin spice.

I tease about the fervor every year, but I do still enjoy a strong cuppa myself. The trouble comes when it transforms into other foods and products that should never bear the orange hue. Please, just keep it out of my lip balm, cough drops, and… pet shampoo, at least! Is that really so much to ask?

Still, the overall attraction is undeniable. It’s hard to beat the comfortingly familiar, creamy espresso eye-opener adored worldwide to begin with. Add in an extra dose of sweetness, a touch of nostalgic spice, and the health halo associated with pumpkin itself, to say nothing of the beautiful latte art possibilities, and you’ve got yourself a viral social media hit. When the hype starts to wear a bit thin, though, I have a small tweak that will revive your enthusiasm over the usual brew.

Chai spice, bearing a brighter, bolder palate emphasizing ginger, cardamom, and a pinch of black pepper, makes a strong argument for skipping the one-note cinnamon seasoning typically on standard order. While the most popular (and some would argue original) purveyor of pumpkin spice lattes doesn’t even offer a dairy free option, it’s effortless to whip up a big batch of this spicy pumpkin sauce to flavor not only coffee, but drizzle over ice cream, swirl into cheesecake, and dip into with crisp apples all season long.

Happily, you’ll have plenty to play with, as this recipe does make a big batch indeed. Halve quantities if you must, but once you take your first sweet, invigorating sip, you’ll end up just going back in the kitchen to make more later.

Continue reading “Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice”

Plum the Depths

Growing up in New England, with its characteristically rocky soil, temperamental weather, and a deeply shaded backyard, I envied those who could grow their own fruits. Even mundane produce selections like lemons or apples seemed like an exotic rarity when they could be pulled straight from the tree. To bemoan such abundance was unthinkable, but mild complaints became inevitably woven into every conversation with such lucky gardeners. Irrepressibly messy, dropping fruit and attracting all manner of vermin, the problem sounded like one of laziness to me. Just don’t let the precious harvest fall in the first place!

Oh, how naive I was.

Now that I have a plum tree in my own backyard, that tiny square plot of land has turned into a battlefield overnight. Blood-red splatters stain the concrete while sticky pits cling to the tall grasses. Swarms of flies delight in the detritus, although they’re just as happy to follow me inside at the slightest provocation. Short of putting a net across the entire property, catching this downpour of plums would be impossible. While this was a mild irritation in summers past, the situation is considerably more exasperating now that Luka patrols the grounds.

Pouncing on these treats as soon as they’re within reach, he’ll happily eat himself sick, and then just keep on eating once again. He devours them whole, pits and all; a choking hazard that gives me regular panic attacks. The growing season has only just begun and I’m already dreading peak plum production.

Out of fear and frustration, I viciously pruned back the offending branches, ripping off every last plum I could get my hands on. Almost all of the fruit was still immature; bright green, hard, and unbearably sour. Though unpleasant to eat out of hand, I nonetheless struggled to simply pitch them into the compost bin. Sure, they could be pickled, but then what do you do with them? A bit of Google sleuthing pulled up a new flavor sensation I had never encountered before, hailing from the Eurasian country of Georgia.

Tart, tangy, warmly spiced, and herbaceous, tkemali can be found in both red and green varieties, depending on the plums themselves, but is always an assertive staple for both cooking and seasoning. Some use it at the table like ketchup, but I found it best as a marinade and sauce for cooking. Slather some seitan in this vibrant elixir, saute, and serve alongside rice pilaf for an effortless meal. Stir into soups and stew to instantly brighten up the flavor, no matter how long it’s been simmering. My favorite use so far has been with simple roasted potatoes, baked until crisp, bursting with the brightness of this distinctive sour blend.

Desperate measures never tasted so good.

Yield: 3 Cups

Green Tkemali (Georgian Sour Plum Sauce)

Green Tkemali (Georgian Sour Plum Sauce)

Tart, tangy, warmly spiced, and herbaceous, tkemali can be used at the table like ketchup, but truly excels as a marinade and sauce for cooking. Slather some seitan in this vibrant elixir, saute, and serve alongside rice pilaf for an effortless meal.

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 2 seconds
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes 2 seconds

Ingredients

  • 2 Pounds Unripe Green Plums
  • 1 Whole Meyer Lemon, Seeded
  • 1/3 Cup Fresh Cilantro
  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Dill
  • 8 Cloves Garlic
  • 2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin

Instructions

  1. Place the plums in a large stock pot and cover with cold water. Set over medium heat on the stove, cover with a lid, and bring to a boil. Cook for just about a minute before turning off the heat and uncovering. Let sit until cool enough to handle; about 30 minutes. Drain out the water and prepare to get messy.
  2. The plums will be very soft, so simply use your hands to squeeze out the pits and stems, removing the skin as well if it comes off easily. Transfer the flesh to your blender, along with all of the remaining ingredients. (Yes, you’re blending that lemon, skin, pith, and all!) Puree until smooth.
  3. Pour the mixture back into the stock pot and set over low heat. Simmer gently for 45 – 60 minutes, until thickened to the consistency of loose ketchup. Cool completely before storing in glass jars in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

3

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 167Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 709mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 6gSugar: 31gProtein: 3g