Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving. May it flow with spice!

Apple pie with mounds of fresh ground cinnamon and grandma's classic lard-vinegar crust. Pumpkin pie with fresh grated ginger and intense Jamaican allspice.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Avocado leaf salsa & creamy jalapeño garlic salsa

As promised, I have continued to experiment with the avocado leaves bought at Fiesta Mart last week. Pictured on the left is the avocado leaf salsa from Bajío I mentioned in my previous post. I found a recipe on Inside Mexico, which is full of problems, but gave me a good starting point for integrating the wonderfully anise-y notes of avocado leaf into a salsa. To begin with, the recipe calls for blending tomatillos, garlic, and a roasted avocado leaf without cooking the tomatillos beforehand. Pretty much impossible given the almost styrofoam-like texture of uncooked tomatillos. So I boiled them until soft, figuring that this is supposed to be a delicate salsa that might be ruined by the charred flavor of comal roasted ingredients. Two other problems: the scale of the recipe seems unnecessarily small to my mind and the flavor of the avocado leaf did not come through, so I fixed it. The final product was wonderful, fruity and lightly perfumed, with the subtle heat of the serrano chiles in the background. Recipe below. It's a good salsa for chips, but I think it would also be delicious with most white fish and with chicken, and probably with a good pork tenderloin as well.

On other fronts, the infused vodka experimentation has not been terribly successful. Avocado leaf infused vodka, on its own, lacks body. I tried it with carrot, thinking the sweetness of the carrot would add an interesting base note, but it tasted slightly wrong. My friend Neville suggested infusing it with figs, which I think is probably the solution. I will report the results as soon as I get my hands on some good figs. My other experiment, avocado-fruit infused vodka, was more successful. An absolutely unmistakable avocado flavor with a lightly creamy texture from the avocado fat. But I need to work on finding a way to prevent it from browning without denaturing the avocado flavor too much. I thought of adding a little bit of agave nectar and lime juice, which should cancel each other out acidity-wise, and hopefully enhance (not distract from) the avocado flavor. More on that soon!

Serrano chile and avocado leaf salsa

2 avocado leaves
4 serrano chiles, with seeds and veins removed
2 cloves garlic
15–20 tomatillos
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1/2 cup of finely chopped onion

Salt to taste

Boil the tomatillos in a pot of salted boiling water for three to five minutes. Blend one of the avocado leaves (roasted lightly on a comal for just a few seconds) along with the serranos, garlic and tomatillos in a blender until completely homogenous. Heat the vegetable oil in a sauce pan and add the second avocado leaf to the oil, followed quickly with the tomatillo mixture. Fry for 10 minutes. Remove the salsa from the stove, add the chopped onions and salt to taste. Cool and make sure to remove the avocado leaf as you would a bay leaf before serving.

If you don't have access to Fiesta Mart, you can buy avocado leaves online here and here. Don't try to pluck them from your garden. This is a variety of avocado only grown in Central America. Apparently the leaves from the California-grown varieties are (ever so) slightly toxic.

Creamy jalapeño salsa (pictured on the right)
This recipe represents a first attempt to duplicate the Doña salsa from Taco Deli, a local Austin favorite. Fairly successful on the whole but not as spicy as Taco Deli's version.

15+ jalapeños
1 bulb of garlic
1 T lime juice (or vinegar) + 1 T water
1 cup (or more) corn oil
salt to taste

Roast the jalapeños and all the cloves from one bulb of garlic on the comal. "Sweat" the jalapeños in a closed paper bag or ziplock baggie for ten minutes or so. Peel and remove the seeds and veins from the roasted jalapeños. Peel the garlic once it's cooled down enough to do so. Place all ingredients, except for the oil and salt, into a blender and blend until perfectly homogenous. Add more water if necessary to ensure a homogenous mixture. Then, as though you were making a mayonnaise or vinaigrette, add the oil very slowly while the blender is still running. Continue adding the oil until the mixture becomes creamy and thick to your liking. If the emulsion seems unstable you can cheat by adding a teaspoon (or less) of mayonnaise to stabilize it. Salt to taste.

Today's lunch featured both salsas: papas con chorizo, grilled Elgin sausage, migas, and homemade flour tortillas. About as Texan as it gets.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Avocado leaves / hojas de aguacate

Ok, not the best photo in the world but I must share. The pictured leaves, which look like they might be giant bay leaves, are actually avocado leaves. It's the first of hopefully many experiments with this exciting––and completely new to me––ingredient. Because the Day of the Dead was yesterday, an occasion during which people here prepare (among other things) tamales, mole, atole, coffee, tequila, and pan de muertos, Fiesta Mart started selling some of the harder-to-acquire ingredients that go into central Mexican moles and tamales, avocado leaves being one of them. They have a sharp anise-like aroma, somewhat like hoja santa, with a slightly bitter bay leaf-like substratum. I have read that Oaxacans oven roast lamb on a bed of avocado leaves, which, now that I've tasted this intense ingredient, I am certain is an exquisite lamb preparation. The above photo is a basic pot roast prepared with avocado leaves, cloves, and Tellicherry pepper as seasoning. Not pretty but a resounding success in the flavor department. Next, I'd like to try to duplicate a salsa from the menu of El Bajío, one of my favorite brunch spots in Mexico City, made with roasted avocado leaves, serrano chiles, and tomatillo. I'm also thinking I'll do a carrot and avocado leaf infused vodka, and perhaps an avocado fruit and avocado leaf infused vodka as well. The possibilities are endless. Happy Day of the Dead, y'all!