I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Salmorejo (Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup) with Frozen Olive Oil

Salmorejo (Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup) with Frozen Olive Oil

Salmorejo is gazpacho’s simpler cousin.  It’s a fresh, chilled tomato soup without the added peppers, cucumbers and other business found in gazpacho.  I’m not a huge fan of gazpacho, because it varies so wildly and people seem to put all kinds of crazy ingredients in it.  You never know what you are going to get. But Salmorejo is right up my alley.  I first tasted Salmorejo in its homeland of Andalucia in Southern Spain but forgot the exact name of the dish and didn’t do much research when I came home.  But a few years ago, I was staying with friends near the beach close to Valencia, Spain and on a trip to the grocery store, I saw cartons of chilled Salmorejo (next to the cartons of gazpacho) and suddenly remembered the lovely soup from my earlier trip.  We grabbed a couple of cartons and served them for lunch.  Unfortunately, the first carton tasted a little off… So we opened the next carton and it exploded all over the patio.  I think it had fermented.  I was kind of embarrassed that I had insisted on buying it.  Oddly, I took this as a challenge and decided when I came home, I had to explore the recipe.

I read many, many recipes and most simply blend the ingredients, chill and serve.  But this method for soaking the ingredients mellows the soup, cutting the bite of the onions and garlic and softening the tomato skins.  The soaked bread is a simple thickener often found in Mediterranean dishes.  Use half a crusty baguette and serve the rest with the soup, or use up some older, slightly dried leftover crusty bread.

I saw a picture of a chilled soup with olive oil ice cubes floating in the bowl in a magazine years and years ago and it stuck in my head waiting for the right application.  I don’t generally recommend buying specialty kitchen equipment, but I found some little round ice cube trays at a dollar store, so seek them out, they are pretty inexpensive.  You can always use them for plain ice cubes.  If you don’t have a small ice cube tray, drizzle the soup with a fruity, quality olive oil.  Salmorejo is traditionally served with whisper thin pieces of jamon Serrano and sometimes boiled eggs.  You could also serve the parsley picada from this wonderful White Gazpacho recipe.

Salmorejo (Spanish Chilled Tomato Soup) with Frozen Olive Oil
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. ¼ cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
  2. ½ small yellow onion
  3. 1 ½ pounds plum tomatoes
  4. 8 ounces baguette
  5. 2 cloves garlic
  6. 2 Tablespoons kosher salt
  7. ½ cup olive oil
  8. 2 Tablespoon sherry vinegar
  9. salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Divide the ¼ cup olive oil between the cubes of an small ice cube tray (about 2 teaspoons a cube). Freeze until firm, 8 hours or overnight.
  2. Slice the onion and place in a large bowl. Half or quarter the tomatoes (depending on size) and place in the bowl. Tear the bread into large chunks and add to the bowl with the crushed garlic cloves and the salt. Pour over enough boiling water to cover and leave to soak for an hour.
  3. Drain the tomato and bread mixture over a bowl, reserving the soaking liquid. Pick out the tomatoes, onions and garlic as best you can and place in a blender. Add the ½ cup olive oil and the vinegar and a little of the soaking liquid and blend to a rough puree. Use your hands and the back of a spatula to press as much liquid as possible out of the bread and add it to the blender. Turn on the blender and puree, drizzling in some of the soaking liquid, until you have a smooth, creamy soup. If you would like a silky soup, pour it through a strainer into a bowl, pushing all the liquid through. Let the soup cool, then cover and chill for several hours or overnight.
  4. Serve the soup cold with frozen olive oil floating in each bowl.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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Asian Inspired Chicken Salad with Sesame Mayonnaise

Asian Inspired Chicken Salad with Sesame Mayonnaise

I do love a good chicken salad, and I am always working on new and different versions. This Asian inspired iteration relies on the wonderful sesame mayonnaise, a recipe I used for years when I first started entertaining, as a dip for asparagus spears or snap peas. I started making it when Asian ingredients like sesame oil and rice vinegar weren’t as readily available as they are now, so it always struck a note of the exotic. I’ve kept that recipe on one of those personalized recipe cards that used to be such popular hostess gifts. I returned to the mayonnaise recipe recently and realized how incredibly versatile it is. I whipped up a little cold chicken supper with leftovers from the fridge, and it was such a good idea, I had to turn it into a summery chicken salad recipe.

Serve this chicken salad  in lettuce cups with lime wedges to squeeze over it. I also like it scooped up with rice crackers.

This will make more mayonnaise than you need. Toss it with cold rice or ramen noodles for a lovely side dish, spread it on a bahn-mi style sandwich. It’s a different twist for a burger or a chicken sandwich. Try it with roasted asparagus or steamed snap peas. I’ve even served this as a dip for grilled shrimp.

Asian Inspired Chicken Salad with Sesame Mayonnaise
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. Sesame Mayonnaise
  2. 1 whole egg
  3. 2 egg yolks
  4. 2 ½ Tablespoon soy sauce
  5. 2 ½ Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  6. 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  7. ½ teaspoon salt
  8. ¼ cup sesame oil
  9. 1 ¾ cups vegetable oil, like grapeseed or canola
  10. Chicken Salad
  11. 3 bone-in, skin on chicken breasts
  12. 1 cup shredded carrots
  13. 4 green onions, finely chopped
  14. ½ cup roasted and salted peanuts, chopped
  15. ¼ cup finely chopped mint
  16. ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
For the Mayonnaise
  1. Place the egg, egg yolks, soy sauce, vinegar, mustard and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until the ingredients are combined. With the motor running, drizzle in the sesame and vegetable oils in a slow, steady stream. Process until the mixture is creamy, thick and emulsified. You will actually hear the food processor change sounds from smooth blending to a wet slapping sound.
  2. When the mayonnaise is thick, scrape it into a container, cover it tightly and refrigerate for at least two hours to firm up and allow the flavors to meld.
For the Salad
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Lightly salt the chicken breasts and place on a baking tray. Roast for about 20 – 25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through (internal temperature of 165°). Let the chicken cool to room temperature, then pull of the skin, pull the meat from the bones and shred into a bowl, either using two forks or your fingers.
  2. Add the carrots, green onions, peanuts, cilantro and mint to the chicken in the bowl and toss to combine. Add 1 cup of the sesame mayonnaise and stir to coat.
  3. The chicken salad will keep, covered, in the fridge for a few days. The mayonnaise will keep, covered, for 4 days.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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Greek Herbed Spinach Pie

Greek Herbed Spinach Pie

I do love dishes made with phyllo dough, spanakopita, tiropita and the myriad of sticky sweet desserts made with it. But after a number of failed attempts, I have discovered that I simply do not have the patience to work with it. So I am attracted to recipes that mirror the tastes of my phyllo favorites without the work. My first success was Greek Feta Parcels, and now I have conquered spanakopita.

I found the basic formula for this recipe in a community cookbook and immediately thought I could give it a Greek twist. I’ve added feta cheese and generous amounts of dill and oregano. The simple batter creates the balance of the delicate original pastry, but could not be easier to mix up. This can be served in big slabs for a meal or cut into smaller pieces for a side dish (try it with a chicken roasted with Greek seasoning and lemon); you can even slice it into small pieces to serve as an appetizer.

Greek Herbed Spinach Pie
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 12 ounces frozen spinach, thawed
  2. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  3. 1 bunch (about 6) green onions, chopped
  4. 1 clove garlic, minced
  5. ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  6. ¼ cup chopped fresh dill
  7. 2 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  8. 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  9. 1 cup cottage cheese
  10. 1 cup crumbled feta cheese (crumble it from a block)
  11. salt and pepper to taste
  12. 4 eggs
  13. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  14. 1 cup water
  15. 1 Tablespoon olive oil
Instructions
  1. Place the spinach in a clean tea towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Separate the spinach with your fingers.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the green onions and cook until soft. Ad the garlic, parsley, dill, oregano and lemon zest and cook until soft and fragrant. Add the spinach and stir to combine and separate the spinach. Remove from the heat and add the cottage cheese and feta and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool. When the filling is cool, beat 2 eggs in a small bowl, then stir into the filling.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°. Pour 1 Tablespoon olive oil in the bottom of an 8 by 8 inch baking dish and swirl to cover the bottom of the pan. Blend 2 eggs, the water and flour and 1 teaspoon salt together in a blender or with a whisk until completely smooth. Pour ½ of the batter evenly over the bottom of the oiled dish. Use clean, damp fingers to crumble and spread the spinach filling evenly over the top of the batter. Pour the remaining batter evenly over the top of the filling, covering fully, though a little filling poking up is fine.
  4. Bake the pie for 40 – 45 minutes until puffed and golden and cooked through. Let the pie cool for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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Baked Coconut Shrimp with Tequila Lime Butter Sauce

 Baked Coconut Shrimp with Tequila Lime Butter Sauce

Crunchy coconut shrimp are sort of a secret treat for me.  I don’t eat at a lot of chain restaurants, but there are a few that really excel and I make the occasional visit to sample them.  The first time I had coconut shrimp years ago, I was attending the trial run of a chain restaurant opening its first branch in town.  The night was a real disaster…the waiters were not ready, there were problems with the lighting and the piped in music.  One of the bathrooms hadn’t been finished and the bar wasn’t opened.  But the shrimp sure were good.

I generally can’t be bothered with frying at home and this baked version is a bit healthier…leaving room for this creamy tequila lime sauce.  I think it adds a little Cinco de Mayo tropical flair to the crispy shrimp.  Serve these as a starter to a larger Mexican meal, or make this the main with some rice with lime and cilantro stirred through. Pop open a cold beer with a slice of lime and celebrate.

Baked Coconut Shrimp with Tequila Lime Butter Sauce
Serves 4
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Shrimp
  1. 1 ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
  2. ½ cup shredded sweetened coconut
  3. 1 teaspoon salt
  4. 1 pound large shrimp (26- 30 count), peeled, deveined, tails intact
  5. 1 egg
Sauce
  1. ½ cup tequila
  2. 6 Tablespoons heavy cream
  3. 2 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
  4. 3 teaspoons lime zest
  5. 1 ½ Tablespoon chopped cilantro
  6. ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, sliced
For the shrimp
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°
  2. Stir the panko, coconut and salt together in a large, deep skillet and place over medium heat. Stirring and flipping the crumbs constantly, toast until evenly golden brown. Be careful not to burn the coating. Spread the crumbs on a plate and leave to cool.
  3. Place a rack in a rimmed baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Beat the egg with 2 teaspoons of water in a small bowl until blended. Pat the shrimp dry, then dip by the tail in the egg. Place the shrimp in the crumbs and press to coat each side fully. Place each bread shrimp on the prepared rack.
  4. Bake the shrimp for 10 – 12 minutes until opaque and cooked through.
For the sauce
  1. While the shrimp are cooking, stir the tequila, cream, lime juice, zest and cilantro together in a medium skillet. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently until reduced by half and thickened. Stir the butter in a piece at a time, stirring to melt after each addition.
  2. Serve the shrimp immediately drizzled with the sauce, or with the sauce on the side as a dip.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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Guinness Glazed Irish Bacon

Guinness Glazed Irish Bacon

It’s hard not to start cooking with Guinness around St. Patrick’s Day.  It is a very versatile brew, lending itself to sweet and savory recipes. And as the old ads say, it makes you stronger!  I love this simple glaze and think thick slices of Irish bacon are the perfect vehicle for it.  Irish bacon is similar to Canadian bacon and more like ham than our “streaky” bacon, so a couple of slices makes for a nice change at dinner, or breakfast. I find it at natural food and upscale markets, but sliced Canadian bacon or thickly sliced ham will work as well.

Serve this sticky bacon with a large portion of Colcannon, which is traditionally served with a large pat of butter, but a drizzle of this glaze over the top is pretty good too.  Or pair it with Champ, if cabbage is not your thing.

This recipe makes more glaze than you will need, but it will keep, cooled in an airtight jar, for a week or so and can be used to glaze grilled chicken, burgers or a meatloaf, so it’s nice to have around to extend the St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

Guinness Glazed Irish Bacon

1 (12-ounce) bottle Guinness stout

1 ¼   up light brown sugar

¼ cup honey

½ teaspoon English mustard powder

8 ounces sliced Irish bacon or Canadian bacon (about 8 slices)

Pour the Guinness into a high-sided saucepan and leave until the foam settles.  Stir in the brown sugar, honey and mustard powder and bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Watch carefully and stir frequently as this can easily boil over.  Just when it hits the boil, reduce the heat to medium -low and cook, stirring often, until the glaze is reduced by half., about 20 – 25 minutes. Remove from the heat. It will thicken a little as it cools.

Cook the bacon slices in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until just beginning to brown, flip and brown the opposite side.  Spoon about 1 Tablespoon of glaze over each slice and cook a few more minutes until the bacon is nicely glazed and syrupy.  Serve immediately, with a little extra glaze spooned over if you like.

Serves 4

Guinness Glazed Irish Bacon and Colcannon

Guinness Glazed Irish Bacon and Colcannon

 

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Colcannon (Irish Mashed Potatoes and Cabbage)

Colcannon (Irish Mashed Potatoes with Cabbage)

Colcannon is a traditional Irish dish that showcases the true brilliance of that culture’s rustic cuisine. Simple, staple ingredients transformed into something all together luscious and comforting. Mashed potatoes and cabbage are combined with a touch of leek and lots of rich dairy to create a dish that will fell like a welcome home, even if, like me, you’ve never been to Ireland.

I like to use napa cabbage because I find it slightly sweeter and milder, but classic green cabbage or savoy cabbage works just as well, and give a more traditional green speckle to the dish. Colcannon is a great side dish to lamb or beef, particularly corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day.

Colcannon (Irish Mashed Potatoes and Cabbage)

2 large russet potatoes (about 2 pounds)

½ head of napa cabbage (about 2 pounds)

2 large leeks, white and light green parts

½ cup (1 stick) butter, divided

1 cup buttermilk

salt to tast

Peel the potatoes, cut into chunks and place in a large pot. Cover with well-salted water by about 1 inch and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until very tender and a knife slides in easily, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and place in a large bowl. Heat the buttermilk to just warm in a small pan or the microwave and add ½ cup to the potatoes. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher or sturdy wooden spoon until you have a nice, creamy mash. Stir in salt to taste

While the potatoes are cooking, slice the leeks into thin half-moons and rinse thoroughly in a colander. Wipe out the pot and melt ¼ cup ( ½ stick) of the butter in it. Add the leeks with some water clinging to them and cook until they begin to soften and become translucent. Stir frequently and do not le the leeks brown. Add ¼ cup of water, cover the pot and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the leeks are completely soft and translucent. Cut out the tough core of the cabbage half and slice into thin shreds. Rinse the cabbage shreds in the colander, then add them to the pot with some water clinging. Stir to combine the leeks and cabbage and coat the cabbage with the cooking juices. Cover the pot and cook until the cabbage is completely soft and wilted, about 15 minutes. Stir a few times and add a few tablespoons more water if there is any worry of the cabbage scorching or sticking.

When the cabbage is cooked, add it to the potatoes in the bowl and fold through. Add buttermilk as needed to create a creamy, rich texture and salt as needed.

Scoop the colcannon into a large serving bowl and make a well in the center. Cut the butter into small pats and place in the well to melt. Serve scoops of colcannon with the melting butter.

Serves 4 – 6

 

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Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Cock-A-Leekie Soup

January 25 is Burns Night, which celebrates the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns.  Suppers are held across Scotland and by many Scottish societies and clubs around the world.  I was challenged by a friend some years ago to host a Burns Night supper and so I did.  I put plaid fabric down the table as a runner and had florist make up arrangements of thistle and heather.  I tied place cards to miniature bottles of Scotch with plaid ribbon and wore my Scottish family motto kilt pin and pendant (I outgrow the hereditary kilt as a child).  I printed out the Burns blessing and forced the challenging friend to read it aloud.  I may have even had a recording of bagpipes.

The only difficulty was coming up with a menu, as about the only ting I knew of as Scottish food was haggis, and I wasn’t going there.  I made a Scottish dessert of oats and cream and raspberries called Cranachan, and beef tenderloin doused in Drambuie and Neeps and Tatties (turnips and potatoes).  But the real culinary discovery was Cock-a-Leekie Soup.  I can’t remember where I dug up the original recipe, but I have since made it my own, because it is so simple and warming.  It is a unique twist on chicken noodle, full of gentle leek flavor and homey barley.  So now, Burns Night or nay, I make Cock-a-Leekie for pure comfort. And I recommend you do to, because a big, steaming bowl will warm you inside and out.  I may be crossing too many cultural lines here, but it is very good with a hunk of buttered Simple Soda Bread.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

For the Broth:

1 whole chicken, giblets removed

2 leeks

2 carrots

1 celery stalk

1 small white onion

2 bay leaves

1 Tablespoon black peppercorns

1 Tablespoons salt

For the Soup:

2 Tablespoons butter

3 leeks

½ cup pearled barley

Place all the broth ingredients into a large Dutch oven or stock pot and cover with 10 – 12 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and skim off any scummy foam that rises.  Turn the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 4 hours.  Taste the stock; it should be nice and rich.  Simmer a bit longer if you’d prefer.

Strain the stock into a big bowl through a colander lined with damp cheesecloth or a tea towel.  Pull out all the chicken meat and discard the skin, bones, fat and vegetables.  Leave the broth to cool and settle, then skim off as much fat as possible.  I generally make the stock a day before and leave it in the fridge overnight.  It is then easy to remove the fat from the top of the stock.  Refrigerate the meat also if you are leaving the soup overnight.

When ready to cook, place the barley in a bowl and cover with 1 cup of water.  Leave to soak for at least an hour or until much of the water is absorbed.  Quarter the leeks then cut into thin slivers.  Place in a colander and rinse very well.  Shred and chop about 2 cups of chicken meat.  Remember, you’ll be eating this with a spoon so you want spoon-sized pieces.

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven and  add the leeks.   Cook the leeks over medium heat until they are soft and wilted, then add 8 cups of chicken stock.  Add the soaked barley and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, then add the chopped chicken meat.  Lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes until the barley is tender and toothsome.

Season with salt and serve nice and warm.  You’ll have some extra broth and some extra chicken.  Lucky you!

Serves 4

The Burns Blessing

 Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae let the Lord be thankit.

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Cheddar Chutney Spread

Cheddar Chutney Spread

It is always nice to have a simple, quick party recipe in you back pocket during the holidays.  Something you can whip up quickly and without too much pre-planning and take to the party of gathering you forgot about – you know, you volunteered a month ago to bring a snack, but completely let it slip your mind.   And this is it.

Good ingredients make a good recipe, and by using a good bottled chutney and curry powder, you get a sprightly punch of flavor with little effort.  I have always loved this spread and I promise it is a hit at parties.  I always get recipe requests when I take this somewhere.  The unusual and slightly exotic taste makes it seem much more complicated and labor intensive than it is.  And it is easy to make it look elegant by molding it into a nice round dome.  Put it on a pretty holiday platter with some crackers and you are ready to go.  It needs a couple of hours in the frideg to firm up, but can be made days ahead.  And any leftovers are pretty great as a sandwich.

Cheddar Chutney Spread

8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese

4 ounces cream cheese

1 (8-ounce) jar good mango chutney (Major Grey style)

4 green onions, chopped

1 Tablespoon mild curry powder

1 chopped green onion for garnish

1 handful of roasted peanuts for garnish

Use the grating blade on the food processor to grate the cheddar cheese.  Switch to the metal blade, then add the cream cheese, chutney, green onions and curry powder.  Blend until smooth.

Now you can go simply scrape the spread into a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate for several hours until firm and serve sprinkled with green onions and peanuts. Or do what I do to make it a little fancier.  Line a nice round bowl with plastic wrap, smoothing it out as much as possible, then press the spread into the bowl, compacting it as much as possible.  Pull the ends of the plastic wrap to cover the top and refrigerate for several house or overnight until firm.  Unwrap the top of the spread and invert it onto a plate.  Remove the plastic wrap and smooth the top with a knife.  Sprinkle over chopped green onions and peanuts.

Serve with buttery crackers.  Can be made several days ahead.

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Summer Market Tabbouleh

Summer Market Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh is the perfect summer farmers market dish – fresh herbs and vegetables tossed with fine grains for a fresh, cool salad.  But has always been underwhelming to me.  Too bland, too dry, I don’t know.  I’ve always wanted to love it, but never had.

Until a conversation at a party about family recipes.  A lovely woman from Mississippi was telling me about some of her family’s traditional Lebanese dishes, filtered through generations in the Missisippi Delta.  She mentioned in passing that her family always soak the bulgur in lemon juice.  That idea stuck with me as a way to pep up the dish.  And it does.  This version of tabbouleh is bright with lemon juice, really tart and unique.  I love lots of fresh herbs, but have added a few spices for a little flair.  So now I like tabbouleh – my way.  I make this for parties and cook outs, but also just to keep a bowl in the fridge for quick lunches and snacks.

But here’s the thing about tabbouleh.  This is my blueprint, lifted from someone else’s recipe.  You can do what you want.  More tomatoes or cucumbers, no garlic, a little chopped hot pepper.  What you find at your market or in the garden.  I do offer some hints.  I like to give my knife and  board a workout and finely chop all the ingredients, so each bite has a good mix of flavors, rather than a big chunk of tomato or cucumber or a big parsley leaf.  With all the lemony tang, I’ve never really thought this needed salt, but do as you will. 

Summer Market Tabbouleh

½ cup fine bulgur wheat

¼ cup lemon juice

2 plum tomatoes

1 cucumber, seed scooped out

1 green onions, white and light green parts

1 small garlic clove

½ cup fresh flat leaf parsley leaves

½ cup fresh mint leaves

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

2 Tablespoons olive oil

¼ teaspoon sumac

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon coriander

Place the bulgur in a bowl. Then mix the lemon juice and ¾ cup water in a pan and bring to a boil.  Pour the liquid over the bulgur and give it a good stir.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 15 minutes.

While the bulgur is soaking, finely chop the tomato, cucumber, green onions and place in a large bowl.  Pass the garlic clove through a press into the bowl, or chop it to a fine paste on a board and add it. Finely chop the herbs and add to the bowl.  Add the olive oil, sumac, cinnamon and coriander to the bowl and stir well to blend everything.  Set aside.

When the fifteen minutes have passed, uncover the bulgur and fluff with a fork.  If there is any liquid in the bowl or the bulgur seems wet, place it on a fine sieve and press out any liquid.  Return to the bowl and fluff with the fork.  Leave the bulgur to cool for about 5 minutes.

Scrape the bulgur into the tomato cucumber mix and use a fork to mix everything together, breaking up any clumps in the bulgur and scraping the sides and the bottom of the bowl.  Cover the bowl again and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld.

 Serves 4 as a side dish, easily doubles.

 

 

 

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Squash Blossom Quesadillas with Summer Squash Salsa

Squash Blossom Quesadillas with Summer Squash Salsa

I love squash blossoms, as I have said before.  So imagine my delight on my recent trip to Tepotzlan in the central mountains of Mexico, to find squash blossoms used in a huge variety of dishes.  I had freshly made quesadillas with Oaxaca cheese for breakfast each morning, and stalls in the market offered sautéed squash blossoms as an add-in for tacos.  The restaurant at the hotel offered them in more nuanced dishes.  But perhaps the best use of squash blossoms I have ever experienced was hand made incorporated into hand made tamales at Cocinar Mexicano cooking school.  I could never duplicate that experience, so I guess I’ll have to go back someday.

But the quesadillas I could copy.  I wanted to zazz them up a little, so I came up with a simple squash salsa.  After all, where there are blossoms there are squash. For me, this is all about the blossoms, so I don’t want to mask their flavor too much.  Many of the taco vendors in Tepotzlan, and many of the recipes I’ve read at home include poblano peppers, but I’ve left that out so the blossoms sing.  I only use a small amount of jalapeno in the salsa for the same reason; the squash should really shine through. That’s also why I use mild flour or white corn tortillas.

Oaxaca cheese is a mild, stringy melting cheese that I find easily at an ethnic market and frequently at my regular grocery.  If you can’t find it, shredded mozzarella is a decent substitute. This recipe makes 5 quesadillas and enough salsa to accompany them.  It’s an odd number, I know, but it is hard around these parts to get squash blossoms in bulk, and 2 dozen is about all I can wrangle from my grower at a time (he doesn’t want me to corner the market).  If you can get your hands on more, please feel free to double the recipe.  Cut in half, these quesadillas make ten lovely little nibbles with a cold Mexican beer.  The squash salsa is also good with corn chips, or over a grilled fish.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas with Summer Squash Salsa

For the salsa:

½ cup diced onion

1 cup finely diced summer squash, divided (about 1 large squash)

1 plum tomato

1-inch piece of jalapeno pepper, seeds removed

2 Tablespoons cilantro leaves

1 clove garlic

2 squash blossoms

Juice of half a lime

Salt

For the quesadillas:

20 squash blossoms

1 Tablespoon olive oil

½ cup diced onion

4 ounces Oaxaca cheese, shredded into strings, or mozzarella

5 small flour or white corn tortillas

For the salsa:

Place the onion, ½ cup of the squash, the tomato, pepper, cilantro, lime juice, garlic and squash blossoms in a blender and blend until you have a chunky puree.

Pour the oil into a large skillet and add the remaining diced squash. Sauté over medium high heat for about 3 minutes, until the squash is slightly softened.  Add the puree from the blender and cook for a further 3 -5 minutes, until the salsa is thickened and any excess liquid has evaporated. Salt to taste Set aside to cool.

For the quesadillas:

Pull any hard stems and spike leaves off the blossoms and pull the stamen out of the center.  Shred the blossoms into narrow strands, using your fingers or scissors.  Pour the olive oil into a skillet and ad the onions.  Sauté over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent, but do not brown, about 8 minutes.  Reserve a handful of the shredded squash blossoms, and then add the rest to the onions in the pan.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the blossoms are soft and wilted.  Take the filling off the heat.

Lay the tortillas on the counter (if you use white corn tortillas, wrap them in a wet paper towel and zap them in the microwave for 15 seconds to soften).  Layer about an ounce of cheese and a good dollop of the squash blossom filling over on each.  Sprinkle a few of the remaining strands of squash blossom over each, then fold in half.

Heat a skillet to high heat and cook the quesadillas two at a time until the cheese is melted and each side is golden brown.

Serve immediately with the squash salsa.

Makes 5 quesadillas

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