Tuna Avocado Cucumber Salad with Feta Cheese


This is a Mexican/Mediterranean-inspired recipe based on one by Natasha’s Kitchen. The only addition I made is the feta cheese. This is a quick, healthy and refreshing side dish that’s perfect for your next outdoor BBQ.  Enjoy!

 

INGREDIENTS:

1 11-oz. foil package StarKist tuna
2 avocados, diced in 1/2″ chunks
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced in 1/4″ chunks
1 cup loosely-packed cilantro leaves
1/4 diced red onion
2 tbs. XV olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh-ground black pepper to taste

 

DIRECTIONS:

Remove the tuna from the package and place in a mixing bowl. Break apart into medium-sized chunks. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the avocado, and season to taste. Mix gently.

Gently fold in the avocado and let chill for one hour before serving.
(It’s best to add the avocado last, so it doesn’t fall apart.)

Serves 4

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.

Mike’s Borracho Beans


The Spanish word borracho literally means drunken. This is a recipe based on a signature dish served at Joe’s Texas BBQ in Green Bay Wisconsin. At Joe’s, they use their home-prepared smoked sausage and a small amount of burnt-ends, which I don’t have access to. I improvised and used chorizo and a ham shank on bone, using the water it simmers in as a savory reduction broth. Negra Modelo beer is also added. This is a really great recipe but you have to allow enough time for it to cook – it cannot be rushed or the results will be for naught.

Go easy on the salt!  The ham and chorizo are loaded with it.  Enjoy-

Ingredients:

1 ham shank on bone
Cold water
2 links spicy chorizo sausage
3 cups dry pinto beans
1 14.5 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup strong black coffee
1 12 oz. bottle Negra Modelo beer
32 oz. beef stock
1 medium onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled, and minced
1 flame-peeled poblano pepper, diced
1 tbs. ground chipotle, to taste
1 tbs. ground cumin, toasted from seed
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground Mexican oregano
1/2 tbs. ground ancho chili powder
2 dry bay leaves
1 cup cilantro leaves – washed and stemmed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs. rendered bacon fat
Dash of fresh-squeezed lime juice

Preparation:

Wash the dry pinto beans in a colander and cover in cold water overnight.
When ready, heat the smoked pork ham shank in a 5-qt cast-iron dutch oven, partially covered,  with enough water to just cover the shank. Simmer on medium-low for about 2 hours, until the meat falls off the bone.
Rotate occasionally to ensure even cooking.

Remove from heat and place aside in a dish to cool. SAVE  the water the ham shank was simmered in.
De-bone the shank and trim meat of all fat – cutting into bite-sized pieces. Discard the bone,  and place the meat back into the pot with the reserved water. Bring to a slow boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer. Add the can of whole peeled tomatoes and crush with a potato masher. Add the coffee and beer. Rinse the beans and add to the pot.

In a separate heavy pan, sautee the onion and garlic on medium-low heat in 2 tbs. rendered bacon fat until translucent – about 15 minutes. Take care not to burn the garlic.
Add to the pot with the dry spices and bay leaves.

Brown the chorizo sausage in a separate pan – cut into 1/2″ chunks and add to the pot.
Using a propane torch or a burner, blacken the poblano – peel and dice. Add to the pot.

Add the beef stock and simmer uncovered on low for about 4 hours, until the beans are tender, stirring occasionally.  Add the lime juice and chopped cilantro. Stir before serving.

NOTE: The consistency is not supposed to resemble baked beans. There should be a nice, rich broth. Add more beef stock or a bit of water if it becomes too thick.

Serves 6-8
Makes about 4 quarts

Simmered Ham Shank Boned and Cubed Ham Shank Chorizo Sausage Mike's Borracho Beans

Mexican Lime Crema


This is an authentic Mexican white sauce that is a must on fresh Baja fish tacos. The preparation is simple and it will keep for at least two weeks in your fridge.

 

INGREDIENTS:

Sour cream
Freshly-squeezed lime juice
minced fresh cilantro to taste
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh-ground black pepper to taste
Ground coriander to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Determine the amount of Crema you need. Mix the sour cream and lime juice in proportion so it forms a “squeezable” sauce. Add the other ingredients.

Mix well and store in a plastic food-service squeeze bottle. Let it sit for three hours before serving. Serve over Mexican-style tacos.

Mike’s Pork Carnitas


Grilled Pork Carnitas

The Spanish definition of Carnitas is “little meats”. This is legendary, ubiquitous street food served from vendor carts all over Mexico and the American Southwest. I may be wrong, but I suspect that this cultural mainstay had a direct influence on the evolution of fajitas and possibly, in part, American pulled pork. It is very similar to the Mayan cochinita pibil, from which it was undoubtedly inspired.

In this recipe the meat is braised in a pot, and the reduction process keeps it very moist. Traditionally, in central Mexico, it was prepared in lard. Yes lard. Here, lard is not needed because the meat renders in its own fat. Achieving a good char, or carmelization in the last step is essential. This is why I use cast-iron on a very hot outdoor charcoal grill.

The best tortillas are made from scratch, and any Mexican vendor worth his street cred always makes them from scratch. Your tomatillo salsa should be fairly spicy — a great contrast to the perfectly-seasoned pork.
This recipe is even better the second day. Reheats well if not overcooked.

Here is my version. Enjoy—

Ingredients:

One 3.5-4lb. bone-in pork shoulder roast with some fat
3 dry bay leaves
1 tbs. pure NM Chimayo chili powder
1 tbs. ancho chili powder
1.5 tbs. ground cumin, toasted from seed
2 tsp. dry Mexican oregano leaf
1 tsp. ground coriander
6 cloves garlic – crushed
12 dry chiltepin peppers, crushed in a mortar, to taste
2 tsp. sea salt, to taste
Fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
cold water
1 large orange, juiced
1 large Spanish onion, sliced* or serve with Rajas de Chili Poblano

8″ flour or corn tortillas
Lime slices (optional)
Fresh cilantro
Tomatillo Salsa Verde

Charcoal for grilling

Preparation:
Cut the roast into fist-sized pieces, then place in a heavy 5-quart cast-iron Dutch oven and coat with the dry spice ingredients, ensuring that all sides are evenly coated. Leave the bone in the roast. It will add incredible flavor.

Add the crushed garlic and sliced onion* ensuring it is evenly distributed. Juice the orange and add the juice to the pot. Add enough cold water to cover the roast pieces, but do not submerge – the liquid and fat will render out and you don’t want too much water. Generally, the roast should be 3/4 covered. Add the bay leaves.

Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 2.25 to 2.5 hours, until the liquid has reduced and very little remains. Turn twice during this time. When tender, remove the pieces and pull apart into 2″ bite sized chunks. Trim away any excess fat and discard the bone and bay leaves.

At this point you should have an outdoor charcoal grill preheated with enough coal for a medium-hot fire.
Preheat a 12″ heavy cast-iron skillet, (coated with some non-stick cooking spray) on the grilling grate until very hot (a drop of water should vaporize on contact in the skillet.)

Add the chunked pork to the skillet and spread out evenly. DO NOT TOUCH for two minutes, until a nice carmelized char has formed on one side. Using a wide spatula, carefully flip the pork over and repeat. Remove from the fire and immediately transfer to a warmed covered serving dish.

Serve in tortillas with Rajas de Chili Poblano, lime slices and hot Tomatillo Salsa Verde. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

Serves 8-12

pork carnitas simmering in a cast-iron pot

Grilled Pork Carnitas

Grilled Pork Carnitas

Mike’s Sausage con Queso


Mike's Sausage con Queso recipe | Culinary Compost

This recipe is one of my hands-down favorites. The Chorizo sausage is rich and savory, adding just the right amount of meaty zip to round out the flavor. If you can’t find bulk ground chorizo, use the casing version by removing the casing and then browning it in a pan. Either method works well.

And my secret ingredient? Chimayo chili powder, available in bulk from many New Mexican online retailers.

Ingredients:

8 oz. spicy bulk chorizo sausage
8 oz. block Monterey Jack cheese, cubed
8 oz. block Velveeta cheese, cubed
1 tsp. pure mild chimayo chili powder
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 poblano pepper*, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced (if you need more heat)
6 dried chiltepin peppers, crushed in a mortar (if you need even MORE heat)
1 roma tomato, cored and diced
chopped cilantro leaves or scallion for garnish

Tortilla chips for dipping

Preparation:

Prepare the poblano pepper. In a 2.5 quart cast-iron pot or heavy sauce pan, brown the chorizo sausage until no longer pink. Remove and reserve on paper towel to absorb the fat. Drain and discard the fat drippings from the pot and add the cheese. Heat on medium-low, stirring constantly until melted. Ensure that the cheese does not scorch. Add the meat back in. Add the peppers, garlic and chimayo powder and stir well until blended. Finally, add the tomato, remove from heat and serve in a dipping bowl with scallion or cilantro as a garnish.

*Note: To roast the poblano, wash the pepper and broil in your oven until the skin blackens and starts to blister off, about seven minutes per side. Remove and place in a sealed paper bag for ten minutes. Then rinse under cold water and work the tough outer skin off. You can also *carefully* use a portable propane torch with great results.

This recipe can also be prepared in your microwave oven, but there is no substitute for slow and low on the stovetop. If you can’t find chorizo sausage, Jimmy Dean spicy breakfast sausage will work well.

Serves 4-6.

Dried Chiltepin Peppers | Culinary Compost

Dried chiltepin peppers – don’t be fooled by their tiny size. They pack intense heat, measuring 80,000 Scoville heat units.

Rajas de Chile Poblano – Chile Poblano Strips


This easy-to-prepare grilled topping can be used on many main course Mexican meals such as steak fajitas or pork carnitas.

Ingredients:

6 chiles poblanos, washed
XV Olive oil
1 medium spanish onion, sliced into rings
salt to taste

Directions:

Heat a charcoal grill with enough coal to produce a medium-hot fire. When the coals are white hot, place them to the side of the coal rack for indirect grilling.

Place the washed poblano chilies on the grill in the center and roast until the skins just turn black. Rotate each and char the other side. Remove and place them in a bowl covered with a towel. The skins will sweat and peel off within 15 minutes.

While the chilies are resting, place the onion slabs over the coals and brush lightly with olive oil. Cook until slightly charred. Again, turn once when roasting. Remove from the grill and place in a serving dish with the rings separated.

Remove the stems and seeds from the chilies. Gently work the blistered skin off the chilies. Cut them into 1/2″ strips and mix with the grilled onion. Salt to taste and serve.

Serving Size 4