Salsa By Any Other Name

Typically conjuring up images of a raw, spicy, tomato-based condiment (or a spirited dance step, if you’re more of an active sort), salsa by any other parameters can be somewhat difficult to swallow. Divorced from the traditional fixings entirely, nouveau renditions may rely on unexpected bases such as corn, mango, or even coconut- Not a tomato or jalapeño in sight. Are these oddballs really salsa, or just another cold relish? Where is the line drawn, and where would my latest crazy concoction fall?

Composed of rich, creamy chunks of avocado, contrasted by crunchy cubes of jicama, the departure from traditional salsa is further reinforced by the herbaceous, acidic bite of chimichurri. Bold flavors define this gloriously green amalgamation; peppery, lemony, and vinegary all at once, the cooling vegetable backdrop proves to be an excellent canvas on which to paint the Argentinian marinade. It’s the Swiss army knife of toppings, perfectly suitable as a dip with chips, crowning soups and salads, or an hors d’oeuvre in and of itself. Filling the curved interior of endive leaves, a more elegant summer snack could not be served.

Thankfully, it turns out the “salsa” can be literally translated to “sauce” in Spanish, so it looks like anything goes for this expansive category. Although, I have to wonder how sauce-like my creation here is, considering the chunky texture and lack of liquid… But I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.

Yield: 3 Cups; 6 Servings

Chimichurri Avocado Salsa

Chimichurri Avocado Salsa

Composed of rich, creamy chunks of avocado, contrasted by crunchy cubes of jicama, the departure from traditional salsa is further reinforced by the herbaceous, acidic bite of chimichurri. Bold flavors define this gloriously green amalgamation; peppery, lemony, and vinegary all at once, the cooling vegetable backdrop proves to be an excellent canvas on which to paint the Argentinian marinade.

Ingredients

  • 1 Clove Garlic
  • 2 Scallions, Roughly Chopped
  • 1 (3-Ounce) Bunch Fresh Parsley
  • Zest of 1 Lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice Juice
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3 Ripe, Firm Avocados
  • 1 1/2 Cups Finely Diced Jicama*

Instructions

  1. Pull out your food processor and toss in the garlic, scallions, parsley, and lemon zest. Pulse a few times to begin breaking down the herbs, pausing as need to scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure that everything reaches to blades. With the motor running, stream in the oil, vinegar, and lemon juice, until well-combined. Add in the pepper flakes and salt, and continue processing until the herbs are extremely fine, but not completely smooth.
  2. Peel, pit, and dice the avocados, placing it in a large bowl along with the prepared jicama. Toss it with all of the herb mixture until evenly coated and distributed. Serve immediately, or chill for up to a day to allow the flavors to meld. The avocado may darken slightly when held overnight, so place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the salsa before sealing it in an air-tight container in the fridge to mitigate those effects.

Notes

*To prepare jicama, first slice it in half, pole to pole. Peel the tough brown exterior away and cut it into 1-cm slabs. Dice and toss into acidified water (1 tablespoon of vinegar in about 3 – 4 cups of water should do the trick) to prevent browning. Rinse, drain, and dry thoroughly before using.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 176Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 210mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 7gSugar: 6gProtein: 2g

Playing Cat-sup

For the record, I hate ketchup. Not just some brands or in some applications, but all ketchup, across the board, even with the classic pairing of crispy and well-salted french fries. There is no faster way to ruin a perfectly good handful of starchy, fried potatoes than to throw some of that red glop across the top. Too sweet to be comfortably paired with savory main dishes but certainly no dessert fodder, it’s that extra piece of the puzzle that doesn’t make sense anywhere in the bigger picture of a meal, and may in fact have come from an entirely different box.

So why on earth did I go and make a quick ketchup, on a blindingly busy day where I had to bake and snap pictures at a breakneck pace? I like to challenge myself, for one thing; Dissecting my reasons for detesting this tomato-based substance, it became a more of a dare. “I bet you can’t make a better version, either,” I taunted myself silently. For another, I can’t resist the temptation to positively bury myself in work, so what better timing than a day when I’m already swamped? Immediately, the ideas started flowing in. A big bag of sun-dried tomatoes provided the initial push, and from a quick internet search and some inspiration, it became an unstoppable impetus. Employing a decent measure of apple cider rather than straight sugar would help cut the sweetness, and a decent bite of vinegar can swing things back to the savory side of the street. Suddenly, this ketchup concept become entirely more appealing.

Unlike traditional ketchup recipes requiring hours of laborious stewing and stirring, the sun-dried tomatoes provide concentrated flavor right from the get go, and the recipe speeds right along. Amazingly, I do not hate this ketchup, which is high praise considering my previous disdain. I can’t say I’m about to slather it on everything that crosses my dinner plate, but those french fries we were talking about earlier? Bring them on.

Yield: Makes About 3 Cups

Sun-Dried Tomato Ketchup

Sun-Dried Tomato Ketchup

Apple cider rather than straight sugar helps cut the sweetness in this rich, sun-dried ketchup, while a decent bite of vinegar swings things back to the savory side of the street.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Apple Cider
  • 1 Cup (Dry, Not Oil Packed) Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Soaked in Hot Water for 30 Minutes and Drained
  • 2/3 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Tamari or Soy Sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 3/4 Teaspoon Mustard Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • Generous Pinch Cayenne Pepper
  • Pinch Ground Cloves
  • 1 Small Yellow Onion
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

Instructions

  1. This procedure hardly needs a written recipe, but here goes: Toss everything into your blender or a sturdy food processor, and puree until completely smooth. Scrape down the sides as need to make sure that everything is thoroughly pulverized.
  2. Transfer the mixture into a large sauce pan and set over medium heat. It may seem like too large of a pot, but this stuff bubbles and sputters like mad once it gets going, so the high sides are helpful for protecting the walls (and yourself) from gruesome blood-red splatters. Cook at a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes, until slightly thickened or at least less watery, stirring every couple of minutes to prevent burning.
  3. Move the whole batch back into your blender or food processor, and puree once more to ensure a perfectly smooth texture. Let cool completely before bottling and storing.
  4. Bear in mind that since this homemade ketchup lacks the additives and preservatives of mainstream brands, you will need to shake it well before each use, as it can separate a bit as it sit. Additionally, it should be kept in the fridge, tightly sealed for no more than 1 month.

Notes

Bonus! If that label caught your eye, you’re in luck! I’d like to share it with you for your own ketchup creations. Here are three color variations for whatever strikes your fancy, below. Just click on the image and print it out on sticker paper at a 6 x 4 size. Trim, and slap it on a 16-ounce glass bottle. I used a rinsed and dried GT Kombucha bottle, for size reference.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

48

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 49Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 84mgCarbohydrates: 2gFiber: 0gSugar: 1gProtein: 0g

Cool as a Cucumber

Five months later, after languishing in the back hall closet unboxed and completely untouched, the spiralizer that I got for my birthday finally made its debut appearance. It’s not that I didn’t want it- I had put it on my wish list after all- But between a lack of time and a leaning towards heartier, simpler, cooked foods, such a frivolous contraption seemed utterly out of place in a winter kitchen. Amazing how things change! Now that the temperature is pushing 90, with humidity enough to swim through the air, the idea of raw vegetable noodles sounded too appealing to resist. Seizing the opportunity to finally play with my new toy, a cool and refreshing dish made almost entirely of cucumber sounded utterly perfect in the heat of midday.

Almost too simple to even mention, but absolutely too delicious not to, into my bowl went one spiralized English cucumber (peeled), a dollop of homemade walnut pesto, a handful of grape tomatoes, and a light drizzle of avocado oil to bring it all together. Lunch was ready in 5 minutes flat, and I was astounded at how satisfying my bowl of green was.

Replicating these noodles without a fancy gadget would be no sweat, too! Just use a regular vegetable peeler to make thin, flat noodles, or step it up a notch and break out a julienne peeler to make something more akin to spaghetti.

The secret to speeding through this dish is making the pesto in advance and freezing it in cubes. I use a really small tray of ice cube dots, so it’s very convenient to grab 3 or 4 for a dish of cucumber noodles, or just 1 to spread on toast. It’s nice to have the flexibility to use exactly as much as it takes to cover the job.

Though I hardly feel that the world needs yet another pesto recipe, just in case you’re curious, this is the way I do it. Forever petrified of getting pine mouth, I tend to avoid pine nuts, and thus lean on walnuts to take their place here. A tiny drizzle of olive oil might be necessary to get the mixture smooth, but just play it by ear; I found it to be the perfect consistency without any added fat.

Yield: Makes About 3/4 Cup

Walnut Pesto

Walnut Pesto

Homemade pesto that swaps traditional pine nuts with walnuts for an earthy, homey twist.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/4 Cup Walnut Pieces
  • 1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
  • 3 Cloves Garlic
  • 2.5 Ounces Fresh Basil, Rinsed
  • Juice of 1 Lemon (About 1/4 Cup)
  • Tiny Pinch Ground Nutmeg
  • Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Instructions

  1. Toss the walnuts, nutritional yeast, and garlic into you food processor or blender first, and pulse for 30 seconds or so to combine. Make sure that no large chunks of garlic remain, and scrape down the sides of the bowl thoroughly before proceeding. Add in the basil, and pulse to break down the largest leaves before slowly drizzling in the lemon juice. Continue to pulse until the mixture is a fairly rough puree. Add in the nutmeg, salt and pepper as desired. Incorporate a tablespoon or two of oil if needed to achieve your desired consistency, or just leave as is.

Notes

Use immediately or freeze into ice cubes. Once frozen solid, transfer the cubes into a zip-top bag or air-tight container. Will keep in the freezer for 3 – 4 months.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

12

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 26Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 27mgCarbohydrates: 2gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 2g

Olive You

Despite the fact that the 4th of July is perhaps the most predictably scheduled holiday on the calendar, I still feel blindsided by its seemingly sudden approach. It’s hard to believe that it’s even July already- What happened to the other 6 months that are supposed to come before it? I can’t recall a single one.

No need to panic though, Independence Day is such a laid back and happy-go-lucky event that there’s rarely much preparation to be done in advance. Slice up a big watermelon, pack a giant cooler full of ice, sodas, and beer, and I’d say that you’re all set for a party. Once your guests come, toss some veggie burgers and dogs on the grill, and then drag the kids down to the beach at night to watch the fireworks. Sounds like a pretty good day, right?

Well, if that’s not enough for you, here’s one super simple hors d’oeuvre that you can whip up and impress your friends with. Tapenade, a basic paste made of pureed olives, is not a new concept in the least, but only recently have I gained an appreciation for olives and discovered how delicious they can be. Now, I’ve found myself smearing this chunky dip over crackers, in sandwiches, and even stirred into hot pasta. My version is somewhat heavy on the garlic, but not so much so that you have to worry about garlic breath after enjoying a dollop.

Although some tapenades are completely smooth, I prefer mine with a bit of texture, so I only pulse the mixture in the food processor. You’re welcome to puree the heck out it if you prefer.

Yield: Makes 1 Cup; 16 Servings

Roasted Garlic Tapenade

Roasted Garlic Tapenade

This chunky kalamata tapenade is is somewhat heavy on the garlic, but not so much so that you have to worry about dragon breath after enjoying a dollop.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Place all of the ingredients in your food processor or blender, and pulse until everything is well-incorporated but still slightly chunky. Dish it up alongside chips or crackers for a “self-serve” kind of snack, or spoon a dollop on small pieces of toast and top with fresh chives for easy little crudites.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

16

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 27Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 54mgCarbohydrates: 1gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g

One Thrifty Treat, Take Two

What an amazing place the blogosphere is… Although I often am astounded by the kindness and generosity of my fellow bloggers, I feel that this sentiment isn’t shared nearly enough. Endlessly inspired by colorful prose and pictures in so many posts, there’s never any lack of creativity out there, and the enticing ideas that I’m itching to try myself just pile up as the numbers on my blog reader grow in synchronicity.

This time however, it was a timely comment that got me racing back into the kitchen, providing fuel for a round of recipe writing. Ricki, of Diet, Dogs, and Desserts and the brand new book Sweet Freedom, made the brilliant suggestion to turn some of my excess dried fruit into fruit butter. You could probably have heard me smack my forehead from miles away when I read that! Seemingly so obvious, and yet something that I would have never thought of, it was an absolutely perfect solution for dealing with that bulky bag of shriveled pears. Racing to turn on the stove and get this fruity spread going, the hardest part of the whole process is probably just waiting for the contents of the pot to cook!

Warming spices just didn’t seem appropriate for the season, so I kept the flavors bright and simple with just a touch of lemon juice, plus one dry, wrinkled vanilla bean that was nearing the end of its usefulness as well.  Instead of struggling to scrape out any remaining seeds from this seriously leathery pod, I simply popped the whole thing into the pot, let it rehydrate, and blended it all up thoroughly in the VitaMix.  This recipe would be so easy to dress up with any number of different spices or flavorful juices though, the variations and possibilities are nearly endless.  Have fun, play around with it, make it yours- I can see plenty of gifting opportunities with this sweet spread in the coming months, too!

Yield: Makes About 4 - 5 Cups

Vanilla Pear Butter

Vanilla Pear Butter

A quick, sweet spread with a luscious vanilla bean aroma, this jam comes together in mere minutes and will keep your tastebuds happy for weeks.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 12 Ounces Dried Pear Halves (About 3 Cups)
  • 2 Cups Unsweetened Apple Juice
  • 1 Vanilla Bean
  • Juice of 1/2 Lemon
  • 1/3 Cup Maple Syrup

Instructions

  1. Combine all of the above ingredients in a large pot, and bring it to a simmer. Cook gently for about 15 minutes, until all of the dried pears are soft and re-hydrated, stirring the mixture occasionally.
  2. Let cool for a few minutes, and then transfer everything into your food processor or blender, and thoroughly puree. The mixture will be extremely thick, so make sure that you scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice to get things entirely smooth.
  3. Spoon the pear butter into clean jars, and seal tightly. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, where it will continue to thicken slightly as it cools.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

48

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 32Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 4mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 1gSugar: 7gProtein: 0g