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Saturday morning, I went to the Fresno Farmer's Market and was inspired by the many fresh and unusual ingredients I found there. My inspiration led me to finally try a couple of recipes from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen. I loved his restaurant Frontera Grill in Chicago when I ate there a few years ago--and I thought I would end up preparing something from his cookbook right away. Alas, it took learning to love nopal and buying nopal at the Farmer's Market this past weekend for me to finally try a few recipes out.

I should have done this sooner as the food I prepared was so delicious and healthy. I actually made two kinds of salsa, a taco filling made of lamb's quarters (a kind of green I found at the market), and the nopal salad. The verdict? Yum. Yum. and Yum.


This taco was perfect. I loved the interplay of the citrusy tomatillo-chipotle salsa with the sweetness of the greens and the nuttiness of the cotija cheese. I loved the tangy flavor of the nopal, even though I ended up cooking it way too long. The tomato-onion-serrano chile mixture was good, just not very subtle . . . so it's the only recipe that I would play with a bit to try to improve. And I have to say that eating the leftovers today was just as satisfying as the original meal.

Make these recipes as soon as you can find some nopal and lamb's quarters.

Roasted Cactus Salad (Ensalada de Nopales Asados), adapted from Rick Bayless

1 bag nopal cut into small pieces (Bayless gives directions on how to prepare the cactus paddle which I was able to skip)
2 T. olive oil
Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon

For the Tomato-Serrano Salsa
1 large, very ripe, round tomato finely diced
Fresh serrano chiles to taste, roughly 2-3 (I only used one and I would clean out the seeds next time, even though the recipe didn't specify that one should)
1 garlic clove, minced
3 T. chopped cilantro
1/2 c. finely diced white onion
1 t. fresh lime jiuce

The recipe also calls for romaine lettuce, Mexican queso anejo, and radish slices or roses to use as garnish.

Instructions:

Toss the cactus with 1 T. olive oil and salt on a baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until tender and all liquid has evaporated, about 20 minutes. Cool (I totally overcooked the nopal, but it still tasted great).

Salsa: in a large bowl, mix the tomato, chiles, garlic, and cilantro. Add onion and lime juice.

Don't mix the cactus and the salsa until right before serving.

Roasted Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa (Salsa de Chile Chipotle y Tomate Verde), again from Rick Bayless

3 to 6 canned chiles chipotles en adobo (I used 3)
3 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
5-6 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Salt, about 1/2 t.
Sugar, about 1/4 t.

Heat an ungreased skillet to medium heat and roast the garlic cloves. Turn occasionally until the garlic is black in spots, about 15 minutes. Cool, slip off the skins, then roughly chop.

Lay the tomatillos on a baking sheet and place about 4 inches below a very hot broiler. When the tomatillos blister, blacken, and soften on one side, about 5 minutes, turn them over and roast the other side. Cool completely on the baking sheet.

Scrape the tomatillos and any juices they have secreted into a blender and add the garlic. Pulse the machine until everything reaches your desired thickness. Add the chiles and pulse again. Transfer to a serving bowl and stir in 3 to 4 T. water (if desired), and salt and sugar to taste.

Tacos of Garlicky Mexican Greens with Seared Onion and Fresh Cheese (Tacos de Quelites), from Rick Bayless

9 c. loosely packed, stemmed lamb's quarters (I ended up buying a bunch and just roughly chopping them)--chard would work here, too
1 T. olive oil
1 medium white onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt, about 1/2 t.
Cotija cheese
corn tortillas
Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa

Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the greens and cook until barely tender, about 2-3 minutes for the lamb's quarters, 1-2 minutes for the chard. Pour into a colander, then spread out on a large plate or baking sheet to cool. When cool enough to handle, roughly chop.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, stir for 1 minute, then add the greens, and stir for a minute or so longer, just enough to heat them through. Taste and season with salt.

Place some greens in a heated corn tortilla, sprinkle with the cheese and add a dollop of salsa.


The Johns, Tanya, and I decided to get together this weekend for dinner and Scrabble. John B. suggested we repeat our pizza night which you can read about here and here. I was more than happy to oblige.

We noshed on olives, bread, tapenade, and dolmas while we made 3 pizzas. I insisted that we do our gruyere wonder (gruyere, garlic, tomato, and rosemary) again and bought some heirloom tomatoes for it. I still LOVE this pizza.


I also had found a recipe for an artichoke, sun dried tomato, pine nut pizza that sounded really good. We used about 3 tablespoons of sauce and a bunch of fontina cheese. I really enjoyed this pizza, too, although next time I'd chop the artichokes into smaller pieces.


Our last pizza was John B.'s invention: mozzarella balls cut in half, fresh oregano from my backyard, and chopped basil added at the end. This was also a really delicious pizza.


Scrabble was, as always, great fun. John J. has been preparing and ended up coming in second twice. John B. wasn't focused on the game, so I won both times (I think he was throwing the games). And we all laughed a lot and otherwise had a great time.


Stay tuned for volume 4. Definitely in June if not before.


Several years ago, I was in Philadelphia for a conference. One evening, I went with some friends to the White Dog Cafe. I don't remember what I ate that night, but I do remember that it was really, really good. So good, in fact, that I bought the White Dog Cafe Cookbook soon thereafter. Since I mostly collect cookbooks rather than actually trying out the recipes, I hadn't really cooked from it . . . until today.

I'm not sure what caused my desire to finally cook a nice meal today. But, I looked at several of my cookbooks, until I found a couple of recipes that sounded pretty easy but also delicious. I thought, what the hell, I'll cook today. I'm so glad I did--these recipes were amazing. The picture really doesn't do justice to the meal. The chicken was crunchy and the artichoke salad drew out the taste of olive oil. The zucchini made me swoon, although next time I think I'll cube the zucchini instead of cutting it into strips. The whole meal was so delicious--as were the fresh peaches and peach sorbet (thanks to Lori). I'm excited I still have leftovers . . . but I will definitely make this meal again.

Mediterranean Fried Chicken with Artichoke Salad

Ingredients:

Artichoke Salad
1 c. marinated artichoke hearts, drained
3 plum tomatoes, cut into thin rounds
1/2 c. sliced and pitted kalamata olives
1/4 c. lightly packed basil leaves, thinly sliced
1 t. minced garlic
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 t. red wine vinegar
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

Chicken
1 c. fine, dry bread crumbs (I used panko)
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (I used tenders)
olive oil, for frying

1. Prepare the salad. Combine the artichoke hearts, tomatoes, olives, basil, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and pepper in a nonreactive bowl and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend. Bring to room temperature before serving.

2. Prepare the chicken. Combine the bread crumbs, cheese, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl. Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl. Dip each chicken breast half in the eggs and then in the bread crumb mixture.

3. In a large skillet set over medium heat, heat 1/4 inch of olive oil until it ripples. Add the chicken breasts and saute until golden brown and cooked through, about 6 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot, topped with the artichoke salad and along side zucchini with white beans and mint.

Zucchini with White Beans and Mint
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t. minced garlic
3 or 4 small zucchini, cut into long (1/4-1/2 inch) strips
1 c. cooked cannellini beans
1/2 T. chopped fresh mint leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. In a large saute pan set over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it ripples. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the zucchini and a few drops of water. Cook, tossing gently, until just tender, about 4 minutes. Add the beans and heat through.

2. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the mint and salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, or let cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Reheat before serving.

White Dog Cafe

3420 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 386-9224