Guacamole is one of my all-time favorite foods, ever. I loved it since I was a child and have never stopped. My love affair with guacamole comes from an even greater appreciation for avocados. They are on my desert island list of food that I can’t live without. It is just so hard to imagine what life would be like without them. Avocados remind me of California and eating them is one way I stay connected to my home town.
For most of my lifetime, I have made guacamole and never look at it as a recipe, but something that is fluid and develops into a moment depending on place and time. There is a foundation to build on, but each time I add or omit an ingredient whenever I see fit. Over the years, my guacamole recipe is the one food that people always ask me, “What is my secret for making delicious guacamole?” My answer is not one they expect or want to hear but, I feel like I am stating the obvious. The secret to good guacamole is, making it with perfectly ripe avocados.
Ripe Avocados make the Best Guacamole
Ultimately, guacamole is only going to taste as good as the avocados you make it with. So, it pays to learn how to identify when they are ripe. It is rare to find them ripe at the market so, it is important to let your avocados ripen to that sweet spot at home. Too hard and the flesh will look pale in and taste bland. Too soft, and the avocado gets gray veins and has bruises on the flesh and tastes over ripe.
The sweet spot is when there is some firmness in the body, but also has some yield when you press on the north and south poles of the avocado. It is like Goldilocks, looking for the right chair to sit in. One that is not too hard, or not too soft. Just right. With experience it gets easier to identify that perfect state of ripeness and learn which store sells the best avocados.
Living in New York, avocados travel long distances to reach our markets and usually are as hard as a granite counter top. Typically, when I buy avocados I let them rest on my window sill for 2 days before I use them. On occasion, they need more time, sometimes less. First, remove them from any bag, even the mesh bag, but especially a plastic one. Then place them in an area where they will get some sun and air circulation. Never put avocado in the refrigerator unless they are cut open. Check them daily and handle them carefully so they do not bruise.
My kitchen windows do not get a lot of direct sunlight, and two to three days usually is enough time. If your kitchen streams with sunshine all day, your avocados may take less time. None of the tricks, like putting them in a paper bag to quickly ripen avocados, work. Time, warm air and sunlight are essential for ripening avocados.
How to Make Guacamole Without a Recipe
When your avocados are ripe, begin making guacamole with the foundation ingredients, avocados, garlic, lime juice, pinch of salt, and minced cilantro. As you make guacamole remember this rule, start with less and add more if needed. It is a lot easier to add seasoning then take away. My preference for guacamole is create a nice balance of all the ingredients to enhance the flavor of the avocados without any one flavor coming on too strong. There are other traditional ingredients in guacamole like white onion or chopped tomatoes, but I prefer a smoother guacamole. Plus, I am not a big fan of raw onions. Feel free to add a couple of tablespoons of chopped white onions or tomatoes if you wish.
Once you get the foundation mixed together, taste and assess what the guacamole needs if anything. With perfect avocados it doesn’t take much to make good guacamole. Sometimes, the avocados lack some flavor and need some boosting. The easiest way to boost up the flavor is by adding a tablespoon of salsa, either tomato salsa or tomatillo salsa. Also, a small spoonful of mayonnaise helps make the guacamole creamy. Even a scant amount of Dijon mustard can offer the right amount of tang when the guacamole needs some acid to brighten it up. However, be careful not to add too much because you don’t want to taste the mustard or mayonnaise, these flavors should be in the background.
Extra Tidd-Bits for Boosting Guacamole Flavor
Just like adding a spoonful of salsa to your guacamole, you can achieve the same effect, if not better if you roast a tomatillo, jalapeño or serrano pepper, and garlic then add them to the guacamole. Personally, I love adding these roasted vegetables to guacamole, especially the garlic. The roasted garlic becomes sweet, and the harsh bite disappears. These roasted vegetables bring a slight tangy smokiness to the guacamole that just fits, like bacon and eggs.
A couple of years ago, I discovered how fresh fruit like strawberries is delicious with guacamole. Either serve strawberries on the side or chop some up and mix in the dip. You may need to add more salt and adjust the other seasoning, so taste and build the flavor as you go.
How Many Avocados?
3 avocados are a good place to start. It should make enough guacamole for 5-6 people. However, if your family is like my family it will disappear in less than 5 minutes and you will feel like you did not make enough. Avocados are expensive, at least in NY, so buy as many as is within reason. The most avocados I ever used to make guacamole are 6-7 avocados. It was for a decent size party of 15 or more people. However, if there are several appetizers in addition to the guacamole, there is no need to make so much.
Keep in mind, guacamole does not keep well. No matter how much lime juice is in the guacamole, eventually it turns gray from being exposed to the air. The oxidation also effects the flavor. Guacamole is a dip to serve right away and at room temperature.
Family Favorite Guacamole
The secret to delicious guacamole is using perfectly ripe avocados. Avocados are ripe when they are still firm but there is some give in the top and bottom of the fruit. I find it is best to buy avocados a couple of days in advance and let them ripen on a sunny windowsill.
This is a foundation recipe to build your guacamole as you make it. Adjust any amount of your preferred seasonings to enhance the flavor of your avocados.
This is not a recipe to make in advance. Guacamole is best served at room temperature and immediately after it is made. Serve with corn chips or some fruit like strawberries and vegetables such as jicama, carrots, cucumbers or bell peppers.
- 3 avocados
- 1 -2 cloves garlic peeled and green germ removed
- 1 lime
- 1/2 tea Kosher Salt
- 2 TBS chopped cilantro
- 1 roasted jalapeño chili optional
- 1 medium roasted tomatillo optional
Cut each avocado in half by holding the avocado in one hand and with the other hand make a slice with a 6-inch chef's knife though the top of the avocado towards the middle until you reach the pit inside. Rotate your knife around the perimeter of the avocado. Set down the knife and hold the avocado in both hands then twist the avocado halves in opposite directions until they separate. Pull apart the avocado halves.
Securely hold the avocado with the pit like it is resting in your palm and the pit is facing up. Make sure your fingers are away from the edge of the avocado. Carefully, but firmly, take your chef knife and hit the sharp edge of the blade in the center of the pit until the knife sticks. With the knife blade secure in the pit, twist your knife counter-clockwise to loosen the pit from the flesh. Lift your knife with the pit still attached and remove the pit from the flesh. Whack the side of your knife against the edge of your cutting board, or the rim of a garbage pail, to loosen the pit from the knife and falls off. Repeat until all the avocados are cut in half and pits removed.
Use a soup spoon and scoop out the avocado flesh. Run the spoon around the inside edge of the avocado to loosen it free from the skin. Scoop out the avocado flesh and place it into a mixing bowl. Repeat until all the avocados are scooped out.
Mash the avocados with a fork until all the flesh is mixed together but still chunky. Add lime juice from half a lime. Stir to mix with your fork.
Mince or press the garlic and place into the mixing bowl. Add a pinch (less than 1/2 a teaspoon), of Kosher salt. and the cilantro to the avocados. Stir to mix.
Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Too bland add more salt or garlic. Needs more acid add more lime juice or tomatillos or salsa. Start with less and add more if needed.
The roasted tomatillo, process in a food processor first then add it to the guacamole.
The chili peppers, remove the stem and scrape out the seeds and white pith according to how spicy you want the guacamole.
Instead of the roasted tomatillo or chilies, add a spoonful or salsa verde or tomato salsa.
For extra creaminess, add a spoonful of mayonnaise. For extra tang, add a half teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
Sliced fresh grape tomatoes for garnish or in the dip.
Cover with plastic wrap until ready to serve. Best eaten immediately with corn chips or cut up vegetables and fruit.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Often, people believe making risotto is a chore. But I find it is not much more work than making a pasta dinner with a vegetable sauce or with shellfish. It takes about the same time and you must pay attention to what you are cooking. Regardless of your perspective, risotto is a meal worth having in your dinner repertoire. This recipe is inspired by Spring, using seasonal produce with the bright zing of lemon and mint. Leek asparagus risotto with sugar snap peas is pure comfort food. It is a blend of rice made creamy from stock and stirring, with a bounty of spring vegetables separately cooked to retain their crisp bite and shape.
What is great about risotto, once you have the basic recipe down, the possibilities are endless. Anything goes. It is a great way to use up odds and end vegetables or leftover fish, chicken and cured pork. Any vegetable pairs nicely with the creamy rice. I like to add a lot of vegetables because I feel it is healthier for me. But many recipes include only just a cup of peas or no vegetables at all, like Risotto alla Milanese, which is the risotto that put risotto on the map. It is only made with the rice, stock, Parmigiano-Reggiano, butter, and saffron.
When I make risotto, I have my music playing in the background or I have the pleasure of a friend sharing relaxed conversation with a glass of wine. It is also a time for meditation, especially if it has been one of those days and you need some quite time. Whatever the mood, you should never feel rushed or stressed when making risotto, you will just end up making mediocre risotto. This just can’t be rushed and defeats the purpose of making a comforting meal.
Variations for Leek Asparagus Risotto
If you want to give leek asparagus risotto an upgrade either for a fancy dinner or for a romantic dinner for two, add some seared sea scallops on top of the plated risotto. If you do not know how to sear sea scallops, click on this link for Dinner Salad with Sea Scallops and Greens for instructions. Brown some butter after searing the sea scallops and drizzle it over the scallops and leek asparagus risotto with a squeeze of lemon. It is a great dinner for a couple to make together. Each person has a job. One can stir the risotto, the other can keep you company and sear the scallops and brown the butter at the last minute.
The dinner salad is a great alternative to risotto when the weather gets hot and humid and you don’t want to stand over a hot stove.
Read more tips on making risotto here.
Leek Asparagus Risotto
A springtime risotto made with leeks, asparagus and sugar snap peas. For a romantic dinner for two, add some seared sea scallops.
When I use a store-bought stock, I like to enhance it by adding fresh vegetable trimmings and simmer for several minutes. This adds some time to your prep, but it does add more flavor to the stock. If you are pressed for time omit this step and save 15 minutes but remember to heat up the stock before adding it to the risotto.
I prepare the asparagus and sugar snap peas separately. This helps the vegetables retain their shape and color. I like the vegetables on the crisp side which is a nice contrast to the smooth and creamy rice.
Leek Asparagus Risotto
- 6 cups (1.5 L) vegetable or chicken stock homemade or low salt store bought stock
- 1 lb (414 g) asparagus
- 1 leeks cleaned and sliced
- 4 oz (119 g) sugar snap peas a heaping cup
- 4 TBS (57 g) butter divided
- 1½ cup (300 g) carnaroli or arborio rice
- ½ cup (150 ml) dry white wine
- ½ tsp Kosher Salt (more to taste)
- ½ cup (50 g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- finely grated zest from one lemon
- garnish with mint and parsley
- Freshly ground black pepper
Preparing the stock and vegetables
Clean and remove the dark leaves off the leek. To clean leek, cut off the root end and slice down the middle of the leek lengthwise but not all the way through. Open the leek like a book and run it under cold running water. Peel back the layers looking for the hidden dirt and rinse off. The dirt likes to hide between the layers of the leek almost all the way through to the center. Dry off the leeks as best you can.
Trim off the dark green layers of the leek and reserve for the stock, then slice in half all the way through lengthwise. Slice the leek in half moon slices about a 1/8 inch (.5 cm) thick and set aside.
Pour the stock into a 3-quart sauce pan and turn the heat to medium-high. Trim off the ends of the asparagus and add the ends to the stock. Add the cleaned dark green parts of your leek. Add a small handful of sugar snap peas to the stock.
Bring the stock to a simmer. Simmer the stock with the vegetables for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the vegetables with a spider or slotted spoon. Discard the vegetables. Return the stock to the burner set to low heat and keep warm.
Fill a sauce pan with salted water and bring to a boil.
While the water is coming to a boil, trim the asparagus into one-inch (2.5 cm) pieces cut on a diagonal. Start by trimming off the top tip just where it begins to get smooth, then work your way down the stalk.
Remove the string from the side of the sugar snap peas and trim each end if needed. Also, while the water is coming to a boil, make a water bath by adding cold water and ice cubes to a medium bowl.
Once the water comes to a boil, add a pinch of Kosher salt then add the trimmed asparagus. Quickly blanch for 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon or spider to remove the asparagus from the boiling water then add to the ice water bath to stop the cooking. Keep the water on and boiling. When the asparagus is cooled remove them from the ice bath and dry on a clean lint free kitchen towel. Set aside. Add more ice to the ice bath for the sugar snap peas.
In the same pot of boiling water, quickly blanch the sugar snap peas for one minute. Remove the sugar snap peas from the boiling water and add to an ice bath. Once cool, drain and dry the sugar snap peas. Cut the sugar snap peas in quarter inch slices on a sharp diagonal. Set aside.
Making the risotto
In a Dutch oven or other 5-qt pot, add 2 TB of butter over medium heat. Once the butter stops sizzling add the leeks and cook until the leeks become translucent and tender, but not browned, about 5-7 minutes.
Add the carnaroli rice and stir to coat. Cook the rice until they become opaque about 2-3 minutes. Pour in the white wine and stir until the wine completely evaporates.
Add about a 1/2 cup (150 ml) of warm stock and stir the rice until it has absorbed the stock. Add the Kosher salt and continue to add warm stock in 1/2 cup (150 ml) intervals, stirring the rice and waiting until the stock is all absorbed until you add more. Continue adding stock and stirring until the risotto is al dente, about 20-30 minutes. After 15 minutes of cooking, taste the rice to gauge your progress. The rice should be tender but still firm. You might not use up all the stock.
Towards the end, add the asparagus and sliced sugar snap peas to warm up. Add the remaining butter and the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with a 1/2 cup of stock. Stir to mix and melt the cheese.
Loosen up the risotto with some warm stock and stir if it needs it.
Spoon a serving into a shallow bowl or plate, and garnish with lemon zest, parsley and mint.
Serve immediately with more cheese and fresh black pepper.
Depending on how salty your stock is, will determine how much Kosher salt you need to add. I always use low salt or homemade stock, which gives me some flexibility for seasoning my food. Taste first and season with salt as needed.
For a really special treat, sear sea scallops separately and serve 3-5 scallops person. Arrange the sea scallops on top of the risotto in individual serving dishes. Brown some butter and drizzle over the sea scallops on the risotto. Garnish with herbs and lemon zest.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Now that it is officially spring, we can look forward to young spring asparagus. These odd looking green spears push through the thawed ground just in time to dissolve away the winter blues. The early spring asparagus spears are tender and often thin, needing little in the way of preparation and adornment. I found the simpler the better for these young spears. If you grow your own asparagus, then you know how sweet and fresh the first spears taste. My friend grows asparagus and eats the first spring spears raw because they are that delicious and tender.
I am not as fortunate as my friend, so I rely on the store and farmer’s market for my spring asparagus. From the farmers market they are slightly older than just picked, however at the grocery they are much older. When buying asparagus look for spears with tight tips and smooth skin. As they get older, the tips open and look like they are about to sprout. If you have the room, stand the asparagus spears, loosely packed and upright standing in a container with a shallow layer of water. If not, untie the bundle and let them rest loose in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.
How to Prepare Spring Asparagus
The best preparation is to cut off the woody end about 2 inches (5 cm) from the bottom. Though, how much actually depends on how old the asparagus was when harvested. I used to bend the asparagus in half and let the spears break where the woody core ended, and the fresh stalk began. Often, I felt there was a lot of waste using the bend and break technique, so I started cutting them and gauging for myself. If the asparagus spears are older, you may need to trim off a longer piece. You can feel with your fingertips where the tender part and the woody part meet.
As the season progresses, and with fatter asparagus spears, the stalks become fibrous making the outer skin stringy and hard to bite. I peel a thin layer, using a vegetable peeler, off the skin from the bottom to about an inch or two below the tip. You can peel the asparagus if you want a fancy dressed-up presentation as well. Early in the season, and with thin asparagus spears, you won’t need to peel the spears, only if you want to. Check out my recipe for Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise how to peel asparagus spears. You can also use the orange mayonnaise with this recipe as well.
Click on this link for nutritional benefits of asparagus.
How to Cook Asparagus
This stove top grilling method produces asparagus the whole family will enjoy. It never ceases to amaze me how this cooking technique turned our sons’ heads and hearts and they began eating their asparagus. Needless to say, we started cooking asparagus using our grill pan all the time after that. No complaints, no “Eat your vegetables,” conversations at the dinner table. Life was good. Before the grill pan method, I would quickly blanch asparagus, then season with butter or olive oil. It produces great asparagus, but it wasn’t everyone’s favorite.
To make stove top grilled asparagus, all you need is a grill pan or skillet, some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or sherry vinegar, Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. My grill pan does not accommodate a full pound (466 g) of asparagus, so I cooked them in two batches. A larger 12-inch (30 cm) skillet might hold a pound (466 g). As the asparagus cooks in the pan, the heat gently chars the asparagus in spots creating extra flavor. You do not get the smokiness of the outdoor grill, but there is just enough sear for extra oomph.
More asparagus recipes
Early Spring Asparagus
Early spring asparagus is tender and sweet and does not need a lot of extra adornment for the flavor to shine. This is a simple preparation using a grill pan or skillet and nothing more than olive oil, salt and pepper, with or without balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs.
Herbs like basil, tarragon, thyme, chives or arugula flowers taste delicious with asparagus. Fresh lemon or orange zest. You can also garnish with chopped walnuts and/or a diced hard-boiled egg.
- 1 lb (466 g) fresh asparagus
- 1 TB extra virgin olive oil
- pinch of Kosher Salt less than half teaspoon
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar optional
Place a grill pan or heavy-duty skillet on the stove set to medium-high heat. Let the pan heat up. Place you hand about 6 inches (15 cm) above the pan. If the heat is starting to feel hot and uncomfortable then your pan is ready, about 4 minutes. It should not be smoking hot.
While waiting for the pan to heat up, Using a sharp knife, trim off the woody end of the spear, about 2 inches (5 cm). Place the spears in a bowl.
Drizzle the spears with extra virgin olive oil, and add pinch of kosher salt and black pepper. Toss to evenly coat.
Arrange the spears in one row across the grill pan or skillet. You won't fit the whole pound (466 g), but add as much as you can fit in a single layer. Allow the spears to cook undisturbed for a few minutes, then turn them over on the other side. Cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes more and turn again. Keep cooking and turning until the asparagus spears are just tender when pierced with a fork but still has some bite.
Turn off the heat and sprinkle some balsamic vinegar or sherry vinegar over the asparagus spears and turn over a few times to coat.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
During the month of March, despite modern farming and trade making fresh produce available 365 days of the year, there is clear evidence that the remnants of winter produce are coming to an end. In the northeast, as we eagerly anticipate the arrival of spring with its’ young seasonal produce, there is a “I’m tired of winter,” expression on many faces. Unfortunately, our winter blues is made more pronounced with the slim pickings at the farmers market. Fortunately, some winter produce, like cauliflower, is easily dressed up with a vibrant sauce made with available winter greens and seasonings. Seared cauliflower with kale parsley sauce is a spring alarm clock for the winter weary.
Throughout the winter I particularly enjoyed roasted broccoli and cauliflower. The charred flowerettes and roasted flavor comforted me on many cold winter nights. Yet, I get antsy in March and seek out clues for an awakening spring. The blustery days still have me craving comfort food like slow braises and stews, but something more vibrant and less rich is dawning. As a result, I decided to add a zesty sauce with my usual seared and roasted cauliflower to waken up the senses after a long winters nap.
Kale Parsley Sauce for Cauliflower Steaks
Kale parsley sauce is a hybrid similar to pesto and chimichurri, but not quite a true member of either one. The heft of the sauce comes from blanched lacinato kale and puréed with assertive ingredients to soften the bitterness of this hearty winter green. To counter the bitterness I added anchovies and lots of garlic. The acid from the capers and vinegar give the sauce a bright and semi-sweet flavor to counter the bitterness as well. Even though this sauce resembles a South American chimichurri sauce, it has a distinct Italian personality.
The most important thing to remember when cooking with kale, no matter what variety, is to remove the whole stem running up the middle of the leaf. The stems are very fibrous and unpleasant to eat and as a polite gesture to your dinning companions remove the stem before cooking. If you want your kids to eat kale, get rid of the stem. Kale leaves have a naturally dry and chewy texture that does not appeal to everyone. Served with the sharp and fibrous stem your children will cross their arms and turn up their nose. Harrumph. You won’t win this battle.
To remove the stem from the kale leaf, simply run a sharp paring knife along the length of both sides of the stem and slice it out. Or, fold the leaf in half like a book with the stem as the binder. While holding tight at the base of the seam (where the stem meets the leaf), yank upwards on the stem and tear it away from the leaf.
How to Slice Cauliflower Steaks
It is easy to slice cauliflower into “steaks” at the center of the cauliflower head. Unfortunately, you may only get two to three intact steaks. First trim off any leaves at the base of the head then trim the stem even to the bottom of the cauliflower head. Then, slice right down the middle of the cauliflower from pole to pole. Beginning at the cut side, slice the cauliflower into half-inch (1.5 cm) wide steaks then repeat with the other half. Cauliflower naturally wants to break into flowerettes the farther away from the core so do not despair if they start to come apart.
If it is important for appearance and presentation that you have as many intact cauliflower steaks as you have guests, then buy a couple heads of cauliflower for some insurance. Chop up and roast the remainder flowerettes and add it to toasted farro with mushrooms, or in risotto, or roast in a 400°F (200°C /Gas Mark 6) oven with olive oil and Romano cheese for a side dish for another meal.
What to pair with Seared Cauliflower with Kale Parsley Sauce
Seared and roasted cauliflower is a versatile vegetable that is perfect as a vegetarian meal or a side dish with grilled or roasted meats. The prominent bite of the kale parsley sauce comes from the vinegar (like chimichurri sauce) and requires a hearty food like grains, pasta or steaks to pair alongside. This recipe will make more kale parsley sauce than you need, so use the remainder as a sauce for pasta with cauliflower, peas, chickpeas and grape tomatoes for an easy weeknight dinner.
Seared Cauliflower with Vibrant Kale Parsley Sauce
Cauliflower naturally wants to break into flowerettes, but in the center through the stem you can slice the cauliflower sections with the stem and flowerettes intact. You will get anywhere from 2-4 intact steaks depending on the size of the cauliflower. Don’t despair if they break apart, it will still taste delicious. Buy a couple of cauliflower heads for backup if the cauliflower steaks break apart or if you want your guest to have similar looking pieces.
The kale parsley sauce is a vibrant hybrid of a chimichurri sauce and a pesto. The acid brightens the sauce while the anchovies, capers garlic and hot pepper flakes give it depth. It is a delicious sauce to add some pizzazz to roasted vegetables and meats.
If you have some leftover cauliflower it is delicious stirred into penne or fusilli pasta with some chickpeas and sliced cherry tomatoes, coated with the kale parsley sauce.
See notes for a vegan alternative.
- 4 oz (125 g) lacinato kale
- ¼ cup (34 g) pine nuts, more for garnish
- Shy ounce (26 g) Italian parsley
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2-3 anchovy fillets 1 tsp white miso paste for a vegan substitute, optional
- 2 TB capers rinsed and dried
- 2 TB red wine vinegar
- ¼ - ½ tsp red pepper flakes (Depending on how hot you want the sauce)
- ¼ tsp Kosher salt
- A couple of rounds of fresh black pepper
- ½ cup (125 ml) 125 ml extra virgin olive oil plus more for the cauliflower
- 1 large head of cauliflower
Make the kale parsley sauce
Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.
Bring a large stock pot half full of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of Kosher salt to the pot. While the water is combing to a boil, clean and remove the stems from the lacinato kale. Chop the leaves into thirds. When the water reaches a brisk boil, add the kale and blanch for 2 minutes. Remove the kale from the boiling water with a spider or tongs and add to the ice water bath. Once the kale is cool to touch, drain from the water and spread out over a clean lint free kitchen towel. Gently pat dry. Set aside.
Toast the pine nuts. Heat a small skillet over medium high heat for 4 minutes. Add the pine nuts. Keep the pine nuts in constant motion so they do not burn. Shake the pan and move it back and forth on the burner, or stir with a wooden spoon. The pine nuts are toasted when you start to smell a warm nutty scent and the pine nuts are slightly browned in parts, about 1 minute. Quickly pour the pine nuts onto a plate to cool. Set aside.
Trim off most of the parsley stems and rough chop the parsley leaves.
In a bowl of a food processor or blender, add the blanched kale and give it a few pulses to break it up and start to make a purée. Add the parsley and pulse to blend.
Add the remaining ingredients, except the olive oil and pulse to create slightly textured purée. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Pour out the kale sauce into a small bowl and add the olive oil. Stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside on the counter.
Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C / Gas Mark 5
Trim away any leaves from the base of the cauliflower head. Rest the cauliflower head on its bottom, stem end down, and cut the cauliflower head in half vertically. Push one half aside and cut ½ inch (1.5 cm) width slices making cauliflower steaks. You might only get two intact cauliflower steaks per side, and the remaining cauliflower may fall into pieces. Repeat with the other half.
Spread the cauliflower steaks on a rimmed baking sheet and gently brush with olive oil on both sides. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and black pepper.
Heat a griddle pan or large skillet to medium high heat. I set my griddle to 325°F (160°C). When hot add the cauliflower steaks to the griddle or skillet and sear for about 5-6 minutes a side. Check after 4 minutes to see the progress. You want a nice brown sear along the flat surface of the cauliflower. Carefully turn the cauliflower steaks over and sear the opposite side.
Place the cauliflower steaks on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven until the cauliflower is tender in the middle, about 10-12 minutes.
Plate the cauliflower steaks on a serving platter or individual plates, and drizzle with the kale parsley sauce. Garnish with pine nuts and chopped parsley and sliced grape tomatoes.
Serve with grains or grilled or roasted meats and chicken.
If you want to make this a vegan meal, omit the anchovies and add white miso paste. Start with a teaspoon of miso paste and taste. It will give the kale parsley sauce some body similar to the anchovies, but you lose some of the Tuscan vibe in the sauce. Another alternative is just omit the anchovies and add more capers to your liking.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Who doesn’t love nachos? All that melty cheese, warm beans, salsa, avocado, and crispy chips just taste so good together. Unfortunately, when I order nachos in a restaurant the chips are soggy with rubbery cheese, and half the chips are naked. What is the point of getting nachos when most of the food on the plate are plain chips? It is like ordering a cheese burger and getting one partially covered with cold cheese.
There is an easy solution. When I make nachos, I spread the chips in an even layer on a rimmed sheet pan, then cover each chip with bean spread (or refried beans), avocado, pickled jalapeño, and grated cheese. Once assembled, they bake in the oven until the cheese thoroughly melts. Why bother with this nacho assembly? Because it is just not a pretty sight, watching your family and friends wrestle and compete over the nachos covered in all that Tex-Mex goodness. With this process, no one gets stuck eating naked chips when they wanted the works.
There are several ways you can put these nachos together. One, buy the chips, bean dip or refried beans, and salsa already made, along with a couple of blocks of cheese and a ripe avocado. The only thing left to do is assemble and bake the nachos. Second, you can use a combo of homemade and store-bought items to make these nachos. The third option is, you can go all out and make everything from scratch.
My version is the second option. I made chips from store-bought tortillas and made the salsa verde. Everything else I bought. If you make everything from scratch, your nachos will have more nuance in flavor, especially the beans. However, these days it is easy to source good quality store-bought salsas, beans and chips. Why not take advantage of your resources? Whichever method you choose, buy the best quality ingredients you can afford.
Suggestions for making Nachos:
For my recipe testing, I discovered getting tortilla chips with a deep corn flavor depends on the tortillas you use. If possible, buy freshly made tortillas from a market or restaurant, and make the chips at home. Or, buy chips from a Mexican restaurant. Both options produce the best tasting chips. Nachos require thick chips that won’t break easily and not too salty. Thicker chips hold up better. If you don’t have a Mexican market or restaurant in your area the store brand I had success with is, Simply Organic Yellow Corn Chips by Tostitos. However, the other corn chips by Tostitos are too thin.
Making your own chips requires some cooking skill, special equipment and deep-frying in 375° F (190°C) oil. You need an instant read thermometer, a 10-inch (25 cm)cast iron skillet, or Dutch Oven, or wok, and a spider strainer. If you do not have all the equipment, please don’t make the chips. Deep frying is tricky business and buying chips a lot safer.
I also provided a recipe for a raw salsa verde made with tomatillos, serrano chilies, onion, garlic and cilantro. The recipe is from Tacos by Alex Stupak, but my method is different. (You can read my cookbook review on Tacos, here.) Instead of using a mortar and pestle, I made the salsa with an immersion blender. It was a breeze and finished in fifteen minutes. Sometimes, tomatillos are hard to find. I found tomatillos at my local Asian vegetable market, but I also saw them at Whole Foods. If you can’t find them substitute with your favorite store-bought salsa verde or red salsa.
Traditionally, nachos are made with refried beans. I used a black bean dip instead. Feel free to use what you like. The beans should be thick and somewhat smooth, so it stays put on each chip. The store brand I used was Newman’s Own Black Bean and Corn Salsa. It was a little too thin, but it still worked. Look for a black bean spread or dip. If you prefer using refried beans, just remember refried beans are made with lard, so if you are serving vegetarians or vegans, find or make a vegetarian one. Here are links for home-made refried beans, and vegan refried beans from Serious Eats.
Helpful Tips Serving Nachos:
- Serve nachos immediately. If you are entertaining, have all your ingredients made and prepared. After all your guests arrive and settled down, assemble the nachos then bake in the oven. It takes about 5 minutes to assemble and 4 minutes to bake. Serve right away. This isn’t an appetizer which is placed on an hors d’oeuvres table and forgotten about.
- Pass these appetizers around, or place in the center of a coffee table where everyone is sitting. Nachos are best eaten immediately. The longer they sit the soggier they become.
- Make sure you grab a couple of nachos for yourself before they disappear. Maybe this is because I am more familiar with the eating habits of teenage boys, college co-eds, and athletes, but appetizers like nachos quickly disappear.
- For a small cocktail party make one tray at a time. If you want more for later, make another tray just before you want to serve them. My sheet pan fit 24 chips.
- Don’t forget the pickled jalapeño . A slice of pickled jalapeño on each nacho makes all the difference between good nachos and great nachos. They add some heat, and the acid brightens all the other ingredients.
- 3 cups (675 ml) canola or vegetable oil
- 6 fresh corn tortillas or thick cut, restaurant style store- bought tortilla chips
- Kosher salt
- 4 oz (125 g) cheddar cheese
- 4 oz (125 g) pepper jack cheese
- 24 tortilla chips homemade or store bought
- 16 oz 453 g jar bean dip or refried beans
- 1-2 ripe avocados
- 24 - 48 slices of pickled jalapeno peppers
- Creme fraiche plus some milk for thinning
- Salsa verde
Salsa Verde (or store-bought salsa verde)
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 3-4 tomatillos about 5 oz (150 g)
- 2 serrano chilies
- ½ white onion minced
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 handful of cilantro minced
In a cast iron skillet, Dutch Oven, or wok, add the oil and heat until the oil temperature reaches 375°F (190°C). Stack the tortilla chips and cut them into quarters. When the oil is hot, add a few chips to the oil and cook until starting to brown, about 2-3 minutes. Turn the chips over to the other side and finish cooking. Use a mesh spoon, or spider and remove the chips from the oil and place on paper towels to dry. Sprinkle a small pinch of Kosher salt over the chips while they are warm. Continue until all chips are fried.
Pre heat the oven to 425°F ( 218°C) with the rack in the middle position. Line a large rimmed sheet pan (18" x 13" / 46 cm x 33 cm) with aluminum foil. Set aside.
Prepare your garnishes of creme fraiche and salsa verde
Add the creme fraiche, or sour cream, to a small bowl and add the milk a tablespoon at a time and stir. Continue to add just enough milk so the creme fraiche will easily drizzle over the nachos. You do not want it too diluted, but the creme fraiche drizzles easier when it is slightly thinned out. Cover and keep in the refrigerator until ready.
If you are making the tomatillo salsa do so now before you bake the nachos. See recipe below.
Grate the cheeses using the large holes of a box grater, or food processor. Place the grated cheese in a medium size mixing bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.
Arrange the tortilla chips in a single layer on a sheet pan.
Spoon a tablespoon of bean dip over the center of each chip, spread it out into an even layer.
Slice an avocado in half lengthwise and remove the pit. Thinly slice each avocado half lengthwise and scoop out the slices with a spoon. Arrange one slice of avocado over each chip covered with the beans. Depending on the size of your avocado, you might need to cut each slice in half to fit on the chips. I was able to get enough slices from one avocado.
Place one slice of pickled jalapeno on each chip, then cover them with grated cheese .
Place the sheet pan with the chips in the oven and bake until all the cheese has fully melted, about 4 minutes.
Immediately place the nachos on a serving platter and serve with the creme fraiche and salsa verde. You can drizzle the salsa verde and creme fraiche over the nachos and sprinkle with some chopped cilantro, or you can serve the creme fraiche and salsa verde on the side.
Peel and mince the garlic. Sprinkle the garlic with the salt and use the side of your chef's knife to make a pulp with the garlic. Move the knife back and forth pressing the side of the blade on the garlic and salt until the garlic turns into a smooth pulpy consistency. Add the garlic pulp to the bowl of a food processor, blender, or immersion blender.
Husk, wash and dice the tomatillos. Place the tomatillos in the bowl with the garlic.
Add the minced onion.
Cut the Serrano peppers in half lengthwise and cut off the stem. If you want a milder salsa, remove the seeds and the white pith. They contain most of the heat, especially the pith. Mince the serrano chilies and add them to the bowl with the tomatillos. Add the honey and process all the ingredients until you get a smooth salsa, or to your desired consistency. Stir in the minced cilantro and pour the salsa into a small serving bowl.
Serve immediately or cover with a tight fitting lid or plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Homemade salsa is best used the same day it is made. If several hours pass before serving, hold off from adding the cilantro until just before serving.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.