Tag: jalapeño

Green Tomatillo Salsa (with Avocado “Crema” Variation)

Tomatillo Salsa

My mom has a friend named Maria Garcia. She’s adorable for so many reasons, and not just because her name rhymes. She’s always dressed in cheery, colorful clothing. She’s never without a broad smile and the room is perpetually filled with her lyrical laughter. My favorite thing about her though?

She usually has a shot of tequila in her hand.

That, and she makes a killer tomatillo salsa. I’ve known Maria for most of my life and lucky for me, her signature salsa makes an appearance at most of our gift-giving occasions.

I love tomatillo salsa. Give me a choice between salsa verde and just about every other condiment known to man, and the green variety is going to win 9 times out of 10. But Maria’s is something special. She doesn’t use any onion, which I like because I’ve had too many salsas where the onion dominated the flavor.

And she doesn’t shy away from the spice–another key to my heart. In truth, I ask chefs to make dishes “spicy like you hate me,” and yet I have never, not ever, used the number of jalapeños Maria suggests in her recipe. She is far more bad-ass than I.

jalapenos

She also boils her jalapeños and tomatillos, which I like as artistic license. I’ve had salsa verde made from fresh ingredients blended in a food processor, and while delicious, that version of tomatillo salsa tastes much “greener” in flavor and less seasoned or intense. Furthermore, the addition of lime juice becomes essential, otherwise there is hardly any tang. When you boil your veggies, the spice becomes spicier and the tang comes out of the tomatillos naturally.

boiling peppersWhich brings me to tomatillos, the funny little things. They tend to be quite hard when you purchase them and enclosed in a little husk. Although I wasn’t able to find any documented reason why, I’m told the husk can be boiled with nopales (cactus) to remove the slime that nopales–and similar plants like aloe–are notorious for. Which makes me wonder if it can be used when cooking okra…And also whether this is just an old esposa’s tale…

But I digress.

Ironically, tomatillos also have a lot of pectin in them. I say ironic because the husks reportedly remove goo, whereas the fruit itself can cause your salsa to get thick and well, goo-ey, once refrigerated. If this happens to you, it simply means that not enough liquid was added to the recipe. Just stir in a tablespoon at a time of warm water until you reach the desired consistency.

tomatillos

The only thing I do differently from Maria when I make tomatillo salsa–aside from using fewer than 10 jalepenos–is to add lime zest. As stated above, I don’t really feel that lime juice is a necessary addition, but part of me was yearning for a nod to that flavor. Zest to the rescue! I looooove citrus zest–it’s just got such zing to it! Apparently I also love four letter nouns that start with “z!”

So if you’re down with the zest, go for it. But know that it’s totally optional. I assure you the results are delicious either way!

zesting limes

Oh and one last thing. This is delicious on fish tacos, where it can comingle with a little lime-crema. But if dairy is no bueno in your universe, try my Avocado Crema variation. Just blend half a ripe avocado with a cupish of green salsa in your food processor until the avocado is completely blended and the mixture is creamy. Add more or less salsa depending on how pourable you’d like your sauce to be. I’ll sometimes make it on the thicker side and dip cold, crunchy crudite into it. Yum!

Green Tomatillo Salsa (with Avocado “Crema” variation)
  • 8-10 tomatillos, husks removed
  • 1-3 jalapeños, depending on your spice tolerance
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt, to taste
  • zest of one lime, optional
  • 1/4 c water
  • small bunch cilantro leaves, torn from stems
  • tomatoes, optional
  • half a ripe avocado, peeled and seeded (for Avocado “Crema” variation)
  1. Put tomatillos and jalapeños in a saucepan with cool water. Bring to a boil and simmer 8 minutes until tomatillos are soft.
  2. Remove from water and allow to cool to the touch.
  3. Remove fibrous stems from tomatillos and peppers (retaining seeds and pulp) and place in food processor with garlic, salt and lime zest, if using. Process until combined. Add water, beginning with 1/4 c until salsa is slightly thinner than the perfect consistency. It will thicken in the fridge.
  4. Add cilantro leaves and pulse until just combined.
  5. Taste. If your salsa is too spicy, you can add whole fresh tomatoes. Just add one at a time until you reach your desired spice level. Or you can make the crema variation that follows, since the fat in the avocado also cuts down on the spice quotient.
  6. For Avocado Crema: Pour salsa into a bowl or beaker, preferably one with a pour spout. No need to clean the food processor.
  7. Process avocado until smooth and creamy. Pour in 3/4 to 1 cup of salsa and process until combined.
  8. Enjoy!

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Live a Little: Bacon Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers Done Right!


Bacon wrapped jalapeño poppersI recently bartended a party for Adam and Eve. Yep, you read that right. The “first couple” drinks! Old Fashioned’s, apparently.

In the stressful flurry of pre-party preparations I was handed a grocery bag filled to the brim with three things: jalepenos, shredded cheese and bacon. The person who handed it to me ran away before I could ask any questions. This happens to me a lot. I must look like a problem solver.

Technically the job belonged to the gentleman who’d been hired as the Grill Master for the day, but together we tackled the seeding, stuffing, and wrapping and in no time, dozens upon dozens of poppers were grill-ready.

My colleague gave it the old college try, but sadly, the never-before-used grill that came with a jet-powered heat source and without instructions of any kind promptly rendered all our hard work charred beyond recognition. Not that I have a problem with burnt spicy-bacon-flavored-cheesy goodness. In fact, I’m sure I could have eaten the entire blackened tray myself. The party guests–properly lubed up on Old Fashioned’s–didn’t seem to have a problem with it either.

But it got me thinking, how does one make perfect jalapeño poppers on the grill without causing the wild flareups that invariably occur when bacon grease meets fire? How do you keep the filling from falling out? (Hint: don’t use store-bought cheese shreds). Must you use an entire bacon strip for each popper? Again, I’m not mad at the idea, but it means I have to stop short of eating 12 poppers all by myself because I’m quite certain that it’s ill advised to consume an entire package of bacon in one sitting.

So, I thought I’d give my healthy habits a day off an write a post that’s simply indulgent. Because sometimes hedonism makes life more delicious!

And because it’s fun to be ironic, the filling for this recipe is adapted from Cooking Light, where the use of Neufchatel, which has 1/3 less fat than regular cream cheese, makes these “guiltless.”

I kid, I kid. But every little bit helps right?

I also used a crazy delicious, extra-sharp New York cheddar made from raw milk because my body definitely likes raw cheeses better than the pasteurized variety. But the cream cheese wasn’t raw, so again, it’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek.

And did you know they make organic, nitrate-free bacon? Well, they do, and this brand is superb! Not all organic bacon is created equal though, so do a trial run before debuting these delectable apps at your next party. Nothing, and I mean nothing is sadder than bad bacon. I want to spare you the experience.

The key to jalapeño popper perfection, I discovered, is grilling them over indirect heat. Meaning if there are flames directly underneath where you place your poppers, you’re going to end up with nothing but charred remains. Instead, light only one or two burners and leave room to place the jalepenos over an area with no flame underneath. Then close the lid. Seriously, this is the biggest grilling faux pas, and I see it all the time. A grill is an outdoor oven. You would never cook your dinner with the oven door open, right? Close that bad daddy! And then be patient, it takes a while for these suckers to cook.

I found that this indirect heating method allows the poppers to cook to crispy, melty perfection without requiring flipping, which is good because the cream cheese all leaked out when I tried. Of course, these delectable hors d’oeuvres can be just as easily baked–without all the shenanigans–but you and I both know that grilled flavor is worth the extra effort.

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers
Be smarter than the Wellness Chef Jennie and use food handler’s gloves when de-seeding the jalapeños. Your eyes will thank you for it. Threading several poppers onto a skewer makes handling them on the grill a breeze.
  • 1 pack Neufchatel, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp fresh garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup green onion, minced
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup raw milk extra sharp cheddar, finely shredded
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8-10 jalepenos, halved and seeded
  • 1 pack organic, nitrate-free bacon
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
  1. Halve the jalepenos. Remove seeds and ribs. 
  2. To make the filling, combine the Neufchatel, garlic, green onion, cheddar, lime juice, and salt. Scoop enough filling into each jalepeno half so that it creates a gentle mound.
  3. Cut each bacon slice in half horizontally. Wrap bacon around stuffed jalapeño pieces, covering the filling as much as possible. Thread three or four onto a skewer.
  4. Sprinkle skewers with fresh cracked pepper and press lightly so the pepper sticks.
  5. Place skewered poppers over indirect heat on your pre-heated grill and close the lid. Grill without turning until bacon reaches desired crispness, approximately 20-25 minutes.

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Cranberry-Jalapeño Relish

fresh cranberry-jalapeno relish in a glass bowl with mint garnishFor those who crave the cranberry tang on their holiday table but loathe the jiggle of Ocean Spray, this recipe is for you. It’s nice to have some healthy crunch in a sea of roasted, mashed, steamed and smashed, and spoonfuls of this on top of gooey slathers of baked Brie just might bring tears to your eyes. I often find myself sitting down with the leftovers and eating straight out of the Tupperware, something I heartily encourage you to try!

As much as I’d like to lay claim to this cranberry-jalapeno relish, my dear friend Teri brought this recipe into the fold, so I get to call “mine” only because I make it every time I see fresh cranberries at the market (and sometimes dream about it at night).

cranberries and cilantro in bowls, onion, ginger, citrus, celery, pecans and jalapeno

Cranberry-Jalapeño Relish
  • 2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (fresh are simply marvelous!)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
  • 1 large fresh jalapeño chile, seeded and finely chopped (don’t remove the seeds if you like it spicy)
  • Zest of 2 oranges
  • 2 blood or navel oranges, peel and pith removed, flesh separated into segments, juice reserved
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 3 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup, can add ab extra 1 T, to taste, if desired
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into 1/4 inch dice
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
  1. Pulse cranberries in a food processor until coarsely chopped.
  2. Transfer to a bowl.
  3. Stir in zest, onion, jalapeño, orange sections and juice, lime juice, ginger, maple sugar or syrup, and celery.
  4. Refrigerate 1 hour (up to 2 days).
  5. Just before serving, stir in mint, cilantro and pecans.
  6. Enjoy a flavor circus in your mouth!

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For the most delicious holiday ever, what foods have to be a part of the spread at your house?