Pico de Gallo Salsa


Pico de Gallo Salsa | Culinary Compost Recipes

 

This is a classic chopped salsa which means “Beak of the Rooster” in Spanish. It is traditionally quite spicy due to the serrano chilis. You will not find it this way in most restaurants, as they invariably default to a very mild salsa for mass appeal, which I think is a big mistake. Chop the ingredients by hand using a very sharp knife. You’ll need that keen edge so you can ensure precise cuts and not risk mashing the tomatoes. Also ensure the ingredients are chopped uniformly, so the color and texture stand out. Let sit for a half hour before serving so the flavors have time to incorporate. If you must put it in the fridge, do so only after trying to use most of it — the cold kills the flavor and texture, and it sadly won’t be as good the next day.

Enjoy – this is a classic that I serve with many recipes. It never fails to please.


INGREDIENTS:

2 medium-sized plum tomatoes
10 garden cherry tomatoes, preferably yellow/orange for color contrast
1 cup loose-packed cilantro leaves
1/2 cup chopped red onion
3 large serrano chilis – fired using a propane torch
2 large cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1 tsp. salt, to taste
Dash of fresh-squeezed lime juice, to taste


DIRECTIONS:

Cut the ingredients into 1/4″ sized chunks. Do not use a food processor. Place in a mixing bowl. Stem and fire the serrano chilis. Then coarsely-chop them and leave the seeds intact.
Crush and finely-mince the garlic. Add with the salt and lime juice.  Toss gently and let stand at room temperature before serving.

NOTE: You may need to remove a bit of the water left after standing for 1/2 hour. This is a normal reaction to salt. Compensate by adding a bit more lime juice after this separation.

Makes just over two cups.

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Salsa de Chili Pequin


Salsa de Chili Pequin | Culinary Compost

This is an authentic salsa that originated in the Sonoran desert of Northern Mexico. It is popular in Arizona and New Mexico due to the availability of the hot dried chili pequin pepper. The pepper is a close relative of the very small chiltepin pepper — essentially from the same cultivar; Capsicum Annuum var. Glabriusculum. If you have dried chiltepin peppers on hand, feel free to use those instead — they tend to be more spicy.

My recipe is extremely hot – adjust the heat to your preference.  You may use a propane torch or your oven broiler to blacken the cherry tomatoes. Don’t skip this step, as it’s critical to achieving the smoky, charred flavor that makes this dish so special.

Let stand for an hour in the fridge before serving. En Fuego!

 

Ingredients:

30 cherry tomatoes, washed and drained in cold water.
3/4 cup loose trimmed cilantro leaves
3 small handfuls dried chili pequin peppers (about four tbs.)
4 cloves garlic with husks on
1 tbs. Bragg’s Organic apple cider vinegar
Pinch of salt, to taste
Fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp. dried ground Mexican oregano
1 tsp. dried ground coriander seed
up to 3 tbs. cold water (use more if needed)

 

Directions:

Wash thirty small, fresh cherry tomatoes and set aside. Wash and trim the fresh cilantro leaves.

Heat a small, heavy cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add the dried pequin peppers. Toast lightly, stirring constantly to avoid scorching. Remove from heat. Toast the garlic in the husks using the same manner. The garlic will take longer to toast. Remove when slightly charred, and then peel.

In a heavy eight-inch cast-iron skillet, blacken the cherry tomatoes with a propane torch. Use extreme caution – when possible use this technique outdoors to prevent a fire hazard. Stir occasionally to ensure they are evenly blackened. Remove from the skillet and place in a blender with the cilantro, toasted pequin chili, the garlic, vinegar, salt and ground black pepper. Add the ground coriander and Mexican oregano.

Pulse until smooth. Add a bit of cold water if you need to. Remove and let stand in your refrigerator for one hour before serving.

 

Makes just over one cup.
Heat level: 8

 

Toasted Chili Pequin and Garlic | Culinary Compost

Toasted chili pequin and garlic in a cast-iron skillet.

Blackening Cherry Tomatoes | Culinary Compost

Blackening cherry tomatoes in a cast-iron skillet, using a propane torch.

Thai Panang Curry Beef


Thai Panang Beef | Culinary Compost Recipes

Panang (Phanaeng) curry beef is one of my favorite Thai dishes. A local restaurant makes it very hot at my request; although traditionally, it is not as spicy as red Thai curry. Regarding the preparation, it may seem counter-intuitive to drop the raw meat in the sauce and simmer it, instead of flash-frying it first, but this is the authentic way to prepare it. Either method works well.

This recipe, like many from Thailand, doesn’t require intense heat for cooking, so you can use any commercially-made wok on a kitchen stovetop, with great results. I prefer to use a 14-pound Lodge cast-iron wok on my charcoal grill, but a ceramic glass stovetop works just as well. The wok heats very evenly, and provides a lot of surface area to work with. It is one of my favorite kitchen tools. You can also use a deep, heavy skillet.

The dish is traditionally served without vegetables, but I gotta have some color working with that spicy mojo, so I always add red pepper and a contrasting green vegetable like pea-pods or green beans. Thinly-sliced serrano or Thai chilies also work well. The addition of crushed peanuts to the sauce is very traditional, influenced by Indian cuisine. You may omit them if you choose. An excellent source regarding the history of this dish can be found here. Miranti knows her stuff!

Control the heat by the amount of curry and cayenne you add. The preparation is very quick, so have everything ready and accessible before you start.

Here’s my version – Enjoy!

 

Ingredients:

1 lb. Angus flank or prime tenderloin steak, cut against the grain at a bias in 1/4″ thin strips
1 can coconut milk
4 tbs. Panang or red curry paste (the red curry is more spicy)
3 tbs. fish sauce, to taste
2-3 tbs. dark brown sugar, to taste
1 red bell or hot red chili, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
A handful of fresh pea-pods or green beans
1 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
Ground cayenne or Thai birds-eye chili pepper, to taste
dash of lime juice, about two tbs.
1/2 cup crushed peanuts
Cooked Thai jasmine rice

 

Directions:

Hit both sides of the beef filet with a needle tenderizer. Slice into 1/4″ strips against the grain and trim away the excess fat. Preheat the wok over medium heat. Add one-half of the can of coconut milk and stir until the fat starts to separate out, about three minutes. Add the curry paste. Cook, stirring for an additional three minutes until fragrant. Add the beef. Stir to coat and cook until the exterior is no longer pink.

Add the rest of the coconut milk, the fish sauce, the brown sugar and cayenne pepper. Stir to incorporate and increase the heat on the wok. Bring to a rolling boil.

Next, add the red pepper, onion and pea-pods or green beans. Cook, stirring occasionally until reduced, about 10-15 minutes. The sauce should be very thick at this point and reduced by half.

Shut off the heat, stir in the basil and lime juice, the crushed peanuts, and serve immediately over jasmine rice.

Serves 2-4

NOTE: Traditionally, kaffir lime leaves are also called for. They are impossible to find in my area. They impart a very different flavor than basil, so if you can find them, give it a try by adding a few that are finely cut into strips.

When preparing the rice, do not add salt; the curry and fish sauce are loaded with it.

Thai Panang Beef | Culinary Compost Recipes

Thai Panang Beef | Culinary Compost Recipes

Thai Panang Curry Beef Recipe | Culinary Compost

Johnsonville® Chiliville Chili


If I stumble across a great recipe, I’ll test and share it with my fellow bloggers. Here’s one for you chiliheads – it’s a great seasonal recipe that my wife found in Taste of Home Magazine. It was on a full page ad featuring Johnsonville Italian sausage — a legendary product made right here in Eastern Wisconsin.

My family loved the recipe. My wife and I both agreed that in the future we would reduce the brown sugar* by half. The exact published measurement is shown here. Other than that, it was excellent. You’ll note that the preparation is simple and doesn’t take a lot of time to set up; this is a plus for busy families, as my made-from-scratch chili recipes are quite time consuming.

 

Ingredients:

1 16 oz. package Johnsonville ground mild sweet or hot Italian sausage
3 cans (14.5 oz. each) diced tomatoes with green peppers and onions
2 cans (16 oz. each) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 can (14.5 oz.) beef broth
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
2 tbs. brown sugar*
2 tbs. chili powder
1 tbs. worchestershire sauce
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
shredded Sargento® cheddar cheese

Directions:

In a 5-quart Dutch oven, cook the sausage and ground beef over medium heat until meat is browned. Drain off fat. Stir in onion, celery and garlic. Cook and stir until tender.

Add the tomatoes, kidney beans, broth, tomato paste, sugar, chili powder, worchestershire sauce, cumin and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with shredded cheese.

Serves 4-6

Mike’s Firecracker Beef Stir-Fry with Broccoli, Scallion


Firecracker Beef with Broccoli and Scallion

 

This Asian recipe can be quite hot – adjust the chilies according to your preference. Your wok must reach a temperature hot enough to quickly sear the steak and flash-fry the vegetables. I’ve found that cooking indoors on a stove just doesn’t accomplish this task. A charcoal grill and a cast-iron wok are perfect.
I use prime cuts of New York strip steak to ensure optimum flavor and tenderness.

Enjoy – this recipe is killer.

Ingredients:

1 10-oz. New York strip steak
10 small dry Thai chilies
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tbs. brown sugar

1 head broccoli, trimmed
10 fresh market green beans, trimmed and cut into thirds
4 scallions, trimmed and quartered, then split lengthwise
1 green or red bell pepper, sliced into 1/2″ strips
1 large carrot, peeled and quartered, then cut into thin planks

2 cups beef broth
2 tbs. corn starch

2 cups 5-minute rice, cooked according to package directions
Peanut oil

Directions:

Using a very sharp knife, trim the steak of excess fat. Cut into 1/4″ strips against the grain. Cut in half if the length of each strip is too long. Whisk the brown sugar and soy sauce in a small mixing bowl. Place steak in a 1-qt. ziplock bag with the soy sauce mixture, garlic and hot Thai chilies. Seal and let stand for 3 hours in your refrigerator. Rotate occasionally.

Wash, prep and cut all of your veggies so you have them ready. Allow all ingredients to stand at room temperature before cooking.

Prepare an outdoor charcoal gril with enough coal for a medium-hot fire. When the coals are white hot, place the wok on the grill grate. Do not spread out the coals – you will need the heat concentrated directly under the wok so the steak sears properly. Allow the wok to heat until a drop of water vaporizes immediately on contact.

Add 2 tbs. peanut oil to the wok and swirl to coat. When the oil starts to ripple, add the green beans, carrot and pepper and stir for about 5 minutes until just crisp-tender. Remove from heat and place in a covered serving bowl.

Remove the steak and chilies from the ziplock bag and add to the wok. Discard the soy sauce. Spread out and let sear for three minutes. Turn with a non-stick spatula and let sit another three minutes. Remove from heat and place in the covered serving dish.

Add the beef broth and corn starch mixture to the wok. Stir constantly until thickened -about two minutes. Add the scallion. Stir. Add back the steak and other vegetables and stir until just heated through. Remove from the wok and serve immediately over rice.

Serves 2-4

 

Firecracker Steak Stir-Fry - prepping the ingredients

Prepping the ingredients.

Firecracker Steak with Stir-Fry Veggies

Flash-frying the veggies.

Firecracker Beef with Stir-Fried Hot Asian Chilies

Adding the steak and chili peppers.

Bucky’s Chili


This is a recipe that I’ve been waiting eight years for. Every year we have a chili cookoff at work and Bucky’s chili is one of the first to disappear. It’s legendary. He finally parted with the recipe, due in no small part to my incessant nagging.

You’ll be amazed how great it tastes considering how simple the ingredients list is. The recipe shown makes one small batch —  you can easily double or triple it with the same results.

Ingredients:

1 pound sirloin hamburger meat (patties or coarse-ground)
1 large yellow onion
1 can Bush’s chili beans
1/2 package taco seasoning mix
Szechuan chili oil to taste

Directions:

Fry up the sirloin in a heavy skillet or pot with the chili oil. When rendered and the meat is no longer pink, add the onion and fry until tender. Add the taco seasoning and mix well. Add more chili oil if needed. Simmer partially covered for two hours on low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the chili beans, mix and simmer until just heated through.

Serve with shredded cheese and chopped scallion.

Serves 2-4

Tomatillo Salsa with Fired Serrano Chilies


Yet another variation on my fresh, traditional salsa verde. In this recipe, the serrano chilies are fire-roasted until charred. This method adds a subtle, complex flavor that is distinctively different. You may choose to fire the peppers on a grill, gas burner or with a propane torch.  Any of these methods work great.  There’s no need to peel them afterward — just stem them and pulse in your food processor until the desired consistency is achieved.  Note that a pinch of ground toasted whole cumin seed is also added.  The result?  Perfection.

In many traditional Mexican salsa recipes the tomatillos are simmered and then blended. Culturally, each has its place — and people seem to be vehemently polarized on their opinion of which they like better.

I love this version; it is very refreshing on a hot summer day.


Ingredients:

12-16 fresh tomatillos, husked, washed and cored
6 large, fresh serrano chili peppers
1 medium onion, peeled
3 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed (try roasting it, as an option)
1/2 cup washed and trimmed cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp. ground cumin – toasted from seed
2 tsp. salt, to taste


Directions:

Peel the tomatillos and ensure they are completely washed clean in cold water. Core and quarter them and place in a food processor. Blacken and stem the serranos. Add to the processor with the onion, mashed garlic cloves and cilantro. Pulse until finely-chopped, but not smooth. Add the salt and toasted ground cumin. Mix well and let stand for 1/2 hour before serving.

Serves 6-8
Heat Level: 7

Salsa Verde |Culinary Compost Recipes

Use a good-quality food processor when preparing salsa. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and produce more consistent results. Choose one with a large-capacity work bowl, strong motor and a pulse switch. Shown is a premium Breville® Sous Chef 12-cup food processor. The pulse feature allows you to quickly process ingredients with just a few pushes of the button. Note the consistency of the cut. The unit costs a lot more than your average processor, but you get what you pay for.