My Berkshire Break

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Purple coneflower and a honey bee at Natural Roots, a horse-powered farm in Conway, MA

I spent most of August house sitting in western Massachusetts. I happened to discover that the aunt of a good friend would be travelling and needed someone to stay in her sweet 200 year-old cottage in the Berkshires and take care of her cat. And as anyone who lives in The City knows, August is the time of year when the air starts to reek of hot garbage and humidity, so anyone with half a chance to be elsewhere decamp to more balmy climes. I spent the months before planning my time in the country, looking forward to hiking, biking on the rail trails in the Pioneer Valley, canoeing and swimming in the clear cold rivers, visiting farmers markets, cooking from the garden.

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Pausing for a photo over the Connecticut River, Northampton, MA

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I took Amtrak’s Vermonter up from Penn Station to Springfield, Massachusetts on a Thursday evening. The first thing I did the next morning was go for an 18 mile bike ride from Easthampton, through Northampton, across the Connecticut River into Hadley and back.

The second thing I did was break my ankle. I was walking up a slick slab of  rock beside the South River up in the mountains. I had gone up to the house to get the “tour” before my friends left for their flight, and while checking out a secluded local swimming hole with my friends’s aunt, felt my ankle just go from beneath me. I went down on my hands and knees feeling like a roaring black cloud had just bowled me over. My brain wasn’t allowing for a lot of pain, just a survival rush that almost blacked me out. How was I going to get up the trail and to the car? I steeled myself, trying to still my mind enough to figure out a way out. When the fog began to clear, the roar of blood in my ears receded so that I could hear the waterfall beside me and I found a limb to lean on up the trail to the car, I tried to decide what to do next.

Two things were going through my mind: my belief that if I was able to walk at all, it must be a sprain and not a break and might heal quickly, and my determination to enjoy this time away from the city. I was alone in an unfamiliar area with an unfamiliar injury so I decided to grit my teeth through a trip to the grocery store and hole up at the house with lots of ice and ibuprofen for the next few days to see if this were a short-lived problem. As it turned out, it wasn’t, but despite the swelling, insistent pain, the massive bruising, I hobbled around for the next 3 weeks until I got home and my orthopedic doc, grimacing and shaking her head, told me that the reason I had been so uncomfortable was that I had been walking on a broken fibula.

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The South River, Conway MA

It’s almost 6 weeks from the break now and I’m healing well. I just transitioned from a massive knee-high Velcro boot to a smaller brace and a prescription for physical therapy. I should be able to walk around more easily with the smaller brace, which is a relief; being car-free is really difficult when one of your legs is out of commission. The bone had already begun to knit together and did not need to be re-set. It’s more of a dull ache and an inability to move my foot at this point. Despite it all, I actually did have a good time in the Berkshires.

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Amherst Farmers Market, Amherst MA

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Smokey Bro’s BBQ, Shelburne Falls, MA

The first week I was alone, I explored in the car, turning down any lane that looked interesting, driving through pretty New England hill town. I visited a great horse-powered farm with a CSA and farm store for produce. I sat on the deck in the sun and read, foot in a bucket of ice or perched on a pile of cushions on a chair. I sketched in the art studio in the house, watched the river, cooked. After Scott arrived the next Friday I was able to do a little more with his help; we went to farmers markets and found some good breweries, restaurants, and roadside stands. We cooked together and drove out to Stockbridge to the Norman Rockwell Museum and up to Williamstown and back across the beautiful Mohawk Trail. It was beautiful and peaceful in spite of my pain.

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Tasty Top Dairy Bar, Easthampton, MA

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I feel a little queasy thinking about what I did, walking in the grass, in the river, through the grocery store on a broken fibula for 3 weeks, but I’m glad I was able to spend time up there. It’s one of those places that combines the serenity of natural beauty with the culture of university towns, some notable art museums, and a really strong emphasis on good, well-made food and drink. While I wasn’t able to write the posts I had hoped to while I was there, I did put together a Google map of places we visited, restaurants, farmers markets, as well as some practical stops like grocery stores. I’d like to go back and get a little more of an active experience next time, visit more restaurants, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, so I’ll probably update this map over time. There is a lot still to be explored in the Berkshires.

My Berkshire Break Map:

Eats, Drinks, Drives, Views, Shops

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Deerfield River, Shelburne Falls, MA

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Buttery Braised Radishes

Whenever I visit Atlanta, my family tries to have at least one family meal together, gathering at one of my sister’s or my parent’s home to spend the afternoon cooking, playing with the little ones, and finally eating together. My family is big and there are often a couple of friends with us too so Sunday lunch is usually 12+ people. We’re all adventurous eaters and all love vegetables so I like to try to introduce a new vegetable or new way of preparing them whenever I’m there. I doubt anyone would be surprised that when I’m in town, I become the de facto executive chef for the family meal but my siblings make excellent sous chefs. My youngest sister Michal made these braised radishes with me last time and they were such a hit I decided to post the very simple preparation here.

When we had a garden, I always planted radishes because a. they were almost instant garden gratification, b. they were so pretty, and c. radishes are especially nice when they are still young and tender. Leaving them in the ground for a couple too many days and they can get really hot and fibrous. Growing them, you get them at their brightest, crispest, and sweetest. But I alway grew more than I wanted to eat raw so I started cooking them this way, with just a little liquid so that their flavor still shone through, just cooked through but not too soft and mushy. They have a flavor somewhat like a sweet young turnip; in fact, if you find the tiny tender white ping-pong ball sized turnips with the greens still attached, they are also delicious cooked this way. I’ve actually mixed radishes and turnips in the picture below.

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Butter Braised Radishes

serves 2-4

1 bunch radishes

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 small knob ginger, smashed

water

 Wash the radishes thoroughly, remove the greens if they are still attached and trim the root and stem ends. Cut the radishes in half if they are large or leave them whole if they are around marble sized. Place in a frying pan with a fitted lid that is large enough to hold all of the radishes in a single layer. Add the butter, soy sauce, and ginger just a bit of water, maybe a tablespoon. Turn the heat on low and put a lid on the pan. Shake the pan occasionally to roll the radishes in the pan. After about 5 minutes, check to see if the liquid is simmering. The salt in the soy sauce and heat of the pan should cause the radishes to release quite a bit of liquid but if the pan is still a bit dry, add another tablespoon or so of water. Replace the lid and cook for another 10 minutes or so. The radishes should give no resistance when pierced with the point of paring knife but should still be firm when they are done. Remove the lid and raise the heat to reduce the liquid to a sticky glaze. Remove the ginger knob and serve warm.

Rhubarbarita

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I’ve kind of left all of you hanging here for a while! I’ve been busy out of town for weddings, family visits, and a funeral – cooking and visiting, planting my sister’s garden, playing with my nephews and nieces. At home again, it’s that late Spring/early Summer season of long days, cool nights, thunderstorms. I’ve climbed out onto the fire escape to enjoy the view of the wisteria in bloom across the back yard a couple of times. I’ts a nice place to sit with a cool drink while I wait for something to finish cooking.

This drink is a little pink spin on my ideal margarita recipe – tart and limey and mildly sweet. The rhubarb syrup just works so well and it’s just a pretty drink. You can replace the syrup with lime juice for a more traditional margarita which is also pretty awesome on a warm summer afternoon.

Rhubarbarita

makes 1 drink

1 ounce lime juice,

1 ounce rhubarb syrup*

.5 ounce triple sec

1.5-2 oz tequila (to taste)

ice

 lime wedge

Mix the lime juice, rhubarb syrup, triple sec, and tequila. Pour over ice in a shaker or glass jar. Shake to combine and chill. Pour over crushed ice in glasses and serve with a lime wedge (in case you like it a little tarter).

*Rhubarb syrup

3 stalks rhubarb, cut into 1-2 inch pieces

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes over low heat until the rhubarb is soft and the syrup is infused with pink color. Strain the rhubarb pulp (save the pulp to mix with yogurt) and store the syrup in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

Warm Summer Green Bean Salad

Here’s another  vacation-conjuring dish, one we had during our trip to Italy last year.

This salad is an example of one of those simple dishes that, when each element is full of flavor, needs no embellishments to sparkle on the taste buds.

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During our stay at La Tavola Marche last year, the farm had just passed its tipping point from summer to fall. The inn was close to the end of its season, the yard-thick stone walls too expensive to heat for guests through the Appenine winter. Jason and Ashley were stripping their gardens of the last of the summery produce, stacking crates of tomatoes to can, drying the stalks of onions and garlic. The days in the valley were warm in late September, but frost was closing in.

Our meals were shoulder-season fare too- warm braised and roasted meats and pastas interspersed with fresh vegetables and salads. Our last evening, Jason pulled the last of the green beans from the vines and made us a delicious warm salad.

As soon as we got settled in our apartment in Siena and found the market, I recreated his lovely combination of crisp, sweet, and piquant so I wouldn’t forget it. I’ve made it  lots of time since then, and I can say unequivocally that getting the best tomatoes, green beans, and red sweet peppers is the key to its success. Gardeners, you’re way ahead of the game here.

Market basket: Siena Tuscany Italy

Market basket: Siena Tuscany Italy

If you’re like me and suffer from garden envy, my tip for finding good tomatoes and peppers elsewhere is to sniff them. Color and texture can be misleading, but a good tomato actually has a fragrance. Green beans are easier, just look for slim, bright pods without discoloration, no lumps from seeds forming inside (these will be too tough for this quickly cooked salad). Although they can be expensive, the little French haricot verts are usually very toothsome and tender.

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We had this salad at the end of the season but it is just as, if not more delicious now at the beginning of green bean season.

Warm Summer Green Bean Salad

1 pound slim green beans, stems removed

1 red bell pepper

1 ripe tomato

1/4-1/2 sweet red onion (depending on the size)

red wine vinegar

olive oil

salt

fresh ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil

Meanwhile, slice the pepper and onion into slivers about the same thickness as the green beans. Cut the tomato into thick wedges. Toss together in a serving bowl.

Once the water has reached a boil, plunge the green beans into the water and return to the boil. Cook the beans briefly, for about 1 minute after the water boils. Remove the pot from the heat and quickly drain the beans in a colander. Allow them to cool enough to handle.

Pour the green beans over the peppers, onion, and tomato and gently toss them all together with your hands. The heat from the beans will slightly warm the other vegetables. Drizzle with a tablespoon of vinegar and a couple of glugs of olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Toss to coat everything in the dressing. Serve at room temperature.

Anyone ever feel like your vacations don’t last long enough?

I do.

This is how I made my vacation last into the weekend (at least on my plate).

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That octopus dish I had at the shore was preying on my mind, haunting me with memories of lemony deliciousness. I was combing the web for recipes and techniques for cooking octopus, thinking about how to recreate a similar dish at home. The octopus info was quite frankly, a little daunting. Then Saturday morning, I noticed a new seafood vendor at the Uptown Hoboken Farmers Market. He had lovely fresh calamari from Long Island, and I thought “hey, they’re both Cephalopods, I can cook calamari!” and grabbed a pound. Cooked with lemon butter, a shaved fennel and parsley salad tumbled on top, and juicy fried lemon on the side and I’m right back, salty breeze in my hair, sand between my toes.

What I ended up with was more a reminder than a faithful recreation of the octopus dish. That’s the point- re-entering real life is inevitable but the reminder of a fun relaxing trip can make even a mundane workweek in the kitchen feel more celebratory.

What’s a memory of a great trip or a great meal you can tug out and use to make your daily grind a little more like a day at the beach?

Shore Break

IMG_2652We rode the train about 50 miles south of Hoboken to spend a couple of days in a pair of New Jersey’s shore towns: Ocean Grove, a quaint, quiet Victorian town founded and owned by the Methodist Church as a permanent camp meeting location, and its neighbor across Wesley Lake, Asbury Park with its mixture of mid century, Beaux Arts, and Victorian buildings, its famous music scene, and its year-round culture.

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We sat on the beach and read during the day, walked up the boardwalk in the evening to dinner, sat on the porch watching the ocean and the stars at night. I had to be reminded to slow my pace when I walked. The boardwalk is for leisurely promenading, not for barreling down like a mack truck. I appreciate the contrast between the pretty towns along the shore and the energetic urban life a short drive north. It’s good to get out and slow the heart rate occasionally.

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There was damage on the boardwalk and in Ocean Grove and some of the ocean front buildings on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, but both towns were relatively unscathed by Sandy.

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One of my regular customers had stopped in the store last week on her way home from the shore and recommended several places for us to have dinner in Asbury Park. Tuesday, we walked over to Brickwall Tavern and Dining Room on Cookman Avenue. They had a huge wall of chalk boards behind the bar with the current “On Tap” list, as good a list as I’ve seen anywhere in NJ. Our waitress was also especially knowledgable about their craft beer menu and when I commented, she told us she was working to become a certified cicerone ( the craft beer equivalent of a sommelier). We tried a few tastes before getting a couple West Coast beers: Bear Republic Crazy Ivan and Stone Cali-Belgique. The food was tavern comfort food with a Southern influence, biscuit of the day, fried catfish, deviled eggs and their parmesan grits were surprisingly good!

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Porta Pizza is in what looks like an old garage with glass garage doors beside the bar that are rolled up in the summer weather to open to an outdoor garden and bocce court. The interior is industrial in it’s structure but very warm in its decor and atmosphere- large communal tables, mismatched chairs, really beautiful bronzed pendant lights around the bar, a white and turquoise tiled bank of pizza ovens along the back wall. Their Wednesday night special is a fresh stretched mozzarella first course, and there was a young man behind a counter by the door making fresh ovelini.

We got a carafe of house red and the octopus and fennel salad and a hot sopresatta pizza (the “14 1/2”). The octopus was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while, crisp and tender with a lemony buttery sauce, subtle capers and a fresh parsley, chervil, and fennel salad. The pizza was topped really well with enough  heat from the Calabrian peppers to satisfy my hot tooth. There were a couple of other pizzas I would love to try, like the “Cecelia” with artichokes, fried lemon, and crescenza cheese, or the “Lardo”, and there was an intriguing salad called “Three Trees” that looked like it would be sharp and balanced and interesting.

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As we were getting ready to bay our bill, a couple was seated across from us at our end of the table. When I looked up, who should be sitting across from me but Dan, the owner of a really great pizza restaurant in Jersey City, Razza on Grove Street, who we had just been talking about while analyzing the pizza crust. His pizza crust, by the way, is exceptional. He and I have talked bread baking on Twitter for a long time and it was fun to run into him.

We’re back in Hoboken. It was a nice little catch-your-breath break, a chance to see the stars, relax, walk slowly, and eat nice food. Over too soon. But not so far away that we can’t get back down there again soon.

PS: I took all the pictures with my phone; they aren’t at my usual standard. and yes, that is my finger in that picture…

Color Inspiration: Squash Blossom and Wax Pepper Frittata

It’s funny how a meal can kind of form itself in my mind through a spectrum of memories, visual inspiration, and serendipity at the farmers market.

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I brought home a bag full of produce from the farmers market and was so excited about the beauty of the pile of eggplants, squash, beans, peppers. I spread it out on the table at home like a vegetal color wheel. It was a pastel summer collection with the exception of the tomatoes, a watercolor wash of violet, gold, ivory and green. I loved the tonal spectrum of squash blossoms and wax peppers and decided to play with an old favorite  by adding squash blossoms to a cheese filled pepper frittata.

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This is a gentle dish, subtly  flavored, the mildest hint of heat from the ivory chartreuse peppers softened and mellowed by the creamy eggs and cheese. Squash blossoms infuse their delicate herbal flavor into the eggs as they bake. And if you prefer an even mellower flavor, go with banana wax peppers rather than its younger, slightly hotter cousin the Hungarian wax. The difference between Hungarian and banana wax peppers is maturity and heat level. Hungarian wax peppers are younger, a little thicker fleshed, and mildly spicy. Banana wax peppers are a little larger, mild and sweet with thin flesh.

This dish is easy-going in another way: do you like gooey strings of melted cheese oozing out with each bite or do you prefer the creamy tanginess of fresh goat cheese? Different cheeses produce different results, both lovely depending on your mood.

For a buttery gooey melting cheese, I like a Fontina Fontal or Monterrey Jack. They melt beautifully but have a bit more flavor than Mozzarella. Goat cheese doesn’t melt but since it’s already soft and creamy, you may find its flavor makes up for that. An herb-flavored goat cheese is also a good way to add some extra flavor if you like.

I’ve written this recipe to serve 2 but the proportions of 2 eggs, blossoms, and peppers per person are easy to double. You’ll just need to increase the cooking time by about 10 minutes per additional serving.

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Squash Blossom and Wax Pepper Frittata 

4 squash blossoms

4 Hungarian wax peppers or banana wax peppers

4 eggs

2 ounces cheese

salt

Cheese to grate over the top

Preheat the oven to 350

Trim the stem ends of the blossoms to leave about an inch of stem. Gently open the blossom a bit and use your finger to pop the stamen off and remove it. The petals may tear a bit but that isn’t a problem since you’ll be twisting them closed around the cheese.

Make a slit down the length of the peppers with a paring knife and rinse out the seeds.

Cut the cheese into strips and chunks that will fit inside the squash blossoms and peppers, and slip the cheese inside. Twist the tips of the petals to close the cheese inside.  If you are using soft goat cheese, spoon the cheese into the cavity in the blossoms and peppers.

Lightly butter or oil a baking dish. Arrange the peppers and blossoms (I alternated them to make them fit AND make them look prettier.)

Beat the eggs and salt and pour them over the peppers and blossoms in the baking dish.

Grate or sprinkle a little cheese over the top. Bake until the eggs have just puffed and set in the center of the dish, about—— and the cheese is lightly golden on top.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool and set for 5 minutes or so before cutting.

Spicy Garlic Eggplant and Tofu

The weather has been a beast here this week. It has been as hot and humid as Satan’s armpit, the kind of weather where your window AC seems to churn the heavy air rather than  actually cool it. We’ve eaten a few of those cold olives and sliced tomatoes and bread and cheese suppers which I think are really lovely in the summer when tomatoes are sweet and juicy and raw or barely cooked vegetables are crisp and tender. Tacos of course required a little cooking, but not a lot. Salsa, slaw, and ice cream for dessert were fresh and light.

While the weather was still hot this weekend, I had worked a long day and  felt like something savory and substantial. I had picked up a handful of slim violet Asian eggplants at the farmers market earlier in the week without a plan for how to use them and decided to quickly wok cook them with a spicy garlicky sauce.  Eggplant can feel really savory and satisfying, soaking up whatever sauce they are cooked in.They are really one of my favorite things to eat. Combined with spicy sauce made with some Asain pantry staples, fresh soft tofu and fragrant Jasmine rice, the meal  was cooked and I was away from the stove in about 20 minutes.

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Spicy Garlic Eggplant and Tofu

1 tablespoon fish sauce*

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

3 tablespoons gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 cup water

1 tablespoon corn starch

¼ cup water

oil

6 cloves garlic

4 scallions

4 Hungarian wax or Banana wax peppers

3 Asian eggplants

14 ounce package soft tofu

toasted sesame oil

Hot cooked rice

Mix the fish sauce, soy sauce, gochujang, sugar, and water and whisk together until everything is smooth.  Mix the cornstarch and water in another small bowl.

Thinly slice the garlic cloves. Chop the scallions into ½ inch pieces. Slice the peppers in half lengthwise, deseed, and slice them into thin slivers.

Remove the stem end from the eggplant, slice them in half lengthwise, and them chop the halves into 1 inch pieces. Remove the tofu from the package, drain, and cut into 1 inch cubes.

In a large wok or skillet, heat a couple of teaspoons of oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the garlic, scallions and peppers into the oil and stir constantly, cooking until they begin to soften. Add the eggplant and continue to stir. Cook the eggplant until the skin turns from purple to brown and the eggplant begins to soften, about 5-10 minutes. Take care not to burn the vegetables; if they begin to brown, lower the heat and add a small pinch of salt. The salt will help the eggplant release some of their water and help keep it from sticking. Gently stir the tofu cubes into the eggplant. Pour the sauce mixture in and stir. Cover and bring the sauce up to a simmer. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, just to infuse the eggplant and tofu with its flavor. Pour the cornstarch slurry over the sauce and stir. Bring it back to a simmer so that the cornstarch thickens the sauce. Drizzle with toasted sesame oil and stir. Serve over hot cooked long grain rice.

*For a completely vegetarian recipe, substitute another tablespoon of soy sauce for the fish sauce

*For and even spicier Sichuan-inspired version, substitute 1 tablespoon of Sichuan chili bean paste for 1 tablespoon of the gochujang and add a pinch of Sichuan peppercorns.

Charred Tomatillo Salsa Verde

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We had a friend over for tacos last night. I know he has excellent taste in tacos (despite an admitted penchant for Dorito  Tacos Bell Grande)in part because one of the first times we ever “ran into” someone out in NYC, we ran into him at our favorite Manhattan taqueria, the eponymous Taqueria LES, which makes great barbacoa and lengua tacos and chile salsa. Consequently, I wanted to bust out a few of my favorite taco night accoutrements for an especially appreciative audience.

We had this tomatillo salsa to eat while we were drinking margaritas and finishing up cooking the carnitas-style pork tacos with a red cabbage cumin slaw and pineapple salsa and a nopal poblano rajas taco with avocado cream and cotija.

The interesting thing about this recipe is that it functions as two-in-one in a way, depending on how long the ingredients are cooked. The version in the photos is on the less-cooked end of the spectrum, giving a lighter, tangier result. Cook the tomatillos and onions longer and it concentrates their natural sugars and flavor, darkening the color and making a richer, sweeter salsa. I’ve used the more cooked version as a base for pork chile verde as well as a salsa for chips. It’s sweet, tangy, and delicious. But this lightly charred version is the bright flavor I craved during the stultifying heat we are living in this week. It’s also pretty much as long as I could stand having the oven on in the kitchen.

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The grill is also a great way to achieve the smoky char that deepens the flavor of this salsa so intriguingly. Throw the peppers and onions straight onto the grate, but the tomatillos will burst, so keep them on a pan of some kind so all of the tomatillo juice isn’t lost.

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If you decide to go with the more cooked version, you will want a bit more lime juice to balance the sweetness of the tomatillos and onions. And of course, the number and heat level of the chiles you use is dependent on your heat tolerance. This version has a medium heat level- add or subtract accordingly.

Charred Tomatillo Salsa Verde

2 pounds tomatillos

1 large onion

3 serranos

1 jalapeño

1-2 limes

1/2 bunch cilantro

4 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon Mexican oregano

1 teaspoon cumin

salt to taste

Remove the husk from the tomatillos, rinse and dry. Slice the chiles in half stem to tip and cut the onion into wedges. Peel the garlic cloves. Arrange everything on a baking sheet in an uncrowded  layer. Do this step in 2 batches if space is an issue, rather than crowding the pan.

Heat your broiler up and place the tray of vegetables under the heat source. Keep and eye on them, turning the vegetables or shaking the pan occasionally if they are browning too unevenly. Once everything is beginning to soften just a little and some of the surface has a little bit of a char on it, remove from the oven and set aside to cool for a little bit.

Cut the larger stems off the cilantro and roughly chop the leaves.

Juice a couple of limes and assemble your spices

Scoop the tomatillos, chiles, onions and garlic into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to break the chunks down and allow the mixture to move and mix. Add about half the lime juice and the cilantro leaves and spices and pulse a couple of times. Once you have reached your preferred consistency ( I like it on the chunky side) pour the salsa into your container and taste for salt and tanginess. If it needs more tartness, stir in more lime juice. Otherwise you’re halfway to a margarita.

The flavors really improve after sitting for at least 30 minutes so I would recommend waiting until then to make any major adjustments to the seasoning. If you prefer more heat at that point, stir in a pinch or two of ground cayenne or chipotle.

Corn and Black Bean Chiles Rellenos

I love those puffy crisp chile rellenos covered with their golden eggy batter, deep fried, filled with oozing cheese and served with a scoop of salsa. If a restaurant or cook can make that dish well, without being soggy or bland or greasy, they have my respect and admiration.

It wouldn’t be wise for me to indulge in that particular version of the chile relleno very often though. They’re a little too rich for everyday (or every week) consumption and they are time-consuming to make well. But “relleno” just means “filled” or “stuffed” in Spanish so I make my version with poblanos baked and filled with vegetables and just a little cheese. It’s satisfying without being too heavy and a lovely way to enjoy more peak summer corn and chiles.

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The only fiddly thing about this recipe is charring the peppers to remove the skin. I’ve made a lot of stuffed peppers of all types over the years and I cannot make one that I like if I don’t start with a somewhat cooked pepper. The timing of cooking is always off somehow, the pepper is still crunchy when the filling is disintegrating or the filling gets watery from the liquid that the pepper releases while cooking. So bear with me and try charring the peppers at least once.

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Dicing the vegetables into somewhat uniform pieces makes for a better bite; the combination of a fork-full of sweet peppers, creamy black beans, and the pop of sweet corn and salty cheese all at once is better than stabbing at lots of disparate chunks.

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I also like to add a little cheese to the filling right before I stuff the peppers. It adds a little bit of tang and richness and the fat brings the flavors in the filling together. If you live somewhere that has good salty crumbly fresh Mexican Cheese available, use that, but I have used feta and fresh chèvre when I can’t find the Mexican cheese and the flavor works well.

Since cilantro can be such a polarizing flavor, I’ve omitted it from this recipe but if you like cilantro, stir some torn leaves in with the cheese.

The amounts in this recipe can be adjusted according to the size of the poblanos. Think of it more in terms of proportions rather than exact measurements.

Corn and Black Bean Chiles Rellenos

4-6 poblano chiles

oil

1 medium red onion

1 red sweet pepper

1/2 jalapeño, seeded

1 1/2 cups corn kernels

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

salt to taste

1 large ripe tomato

1 1/2 cooked black beans, rinsed and drained.

3 ounces fresh cheese such as cotija, feta, or chèvre

First, char the poblanos, either on a grill, on the burner of a gas stove, or under a broiler. Turn to blacken the skin evenly. When the chiles are blistered all over, put them in a bowl with a plate to cover them to steam a little and cool down to the point they can be handled. Pick the blackened skin off the outside, although this is not the time for perfection, a little of the char left behind adds flavor.

Prepare the filling: dice the onion, peppers and tomato into pieces not too much larger than the beans and corn. This will help the ingredients cook evenly.

In a large skillet, heat a splash of oil to a shimmer. Add the onion and peppers and sauté for a couple of minutes over medium heat. Add the corn kernels and spices and raise the heat, stirring to let the corn caramelize a little. Lower the heat and gently stir in the tomatoes and beans. Once they have warmed, remove the pan from the heat and set aside. Stir in 3/4 or so of the cheese, trying to keep it in chunks.

Heat the oven to 300

Make a slit down the side of each poblano and scoop and rinse the seeds out. Place the, slit side up in a baking dish that just holds the peppers without a lot of room to spare. Spoon the vegetable filling into the poblanos, filling them generously and pouring any accumulated juices over the pan. Crumble the rest of the cheese over the top and bake for about 15 minutes.

Serve with rice and a drizzle of chipotle salsa roja (if you like).