Thursday, October 29, 2009

Slow Food Miami 2009 annual meeting

Last night was the Slow Food Miami annual meeting. I haven't been to many Slow Food events recently--too many overpriced events [Edit: Actually, "overpriced" isn't an applicable term for an event where some of the entry fee goes to support a non-profit organization--in this case Slow Food Miami's good works in school gardens. I should have said that these were events beyond my ability to afford.] at inconvenient venues with not especially appealing menus. But the annual meeting was being catered by chef Kris Wessel from Red Light about whom I've heard good things and he was presenting a very ambitious spread. I figured it was worth sitting through the convivium business and announcements to check it out.

Trina of was there too and said hello. (I hope it's not inappropriate to say that I liked her dress. Because I did.) She'll likely give you details on the event as an event so I'm going to talk a bit more about the food and my personal take on things. There's also some good coverage on the Miami New Times Short Order blog by Jackie Sayet. She must have been the other gal I saw wandering around taking pictures. I didn't notice what she was wearing.

The food suffered from the usual take-the-chef-out-of-his-kitchen-and-make-him-serve-buffet-style problems (see every other episode of Top Chef for details), but there were certainly some highlights worth pointing out.

On this plate you can see October plum-braised rabbit on the left, boniato (something between a sweet potato and yuca) in the middle, Little Haiti-style goat on the right with butternut squash gnocchi and braised callaloo up top. My favorite here was the callaloo; it's a different sort than what we get in the CSA from Three Sisters Farms with a lighter flavor and better texture, although that may be from the Southern-style braise Wessel gave it.

On this plate are an Apalachicola oyster pie, grass-fed steak tartar and a mysterious seafood dip that wasn't on the menu. I asked the volunteer culinary student from FIU manning the station (who was a dab hand at dishing out the tartar; Look at that perfect quenelle!) but he couldn't tell me anything more. It was really good but the flavors were so well integrated that I hesitate to embarrass myself trying to guess the ingredients. You can also see a bit, in the upper left corner, of a Bloody Mary shot that was bright, fresh and tangy; very nice. There was some buzz in the room about the oyster pie, but personally I found the breading to oyster ratio off and the sprinkling of coarse salt on top overpowering. But it was popular so maybe it was just the one I got.

Next up was a trip to the grain station. From the upper left corner, white and pink lentils, a green lentil salad with wheat grass, cucumber quinoa and Homestead corn and red pepper salad. My favorite of this batch was the corn salad which had a nice combination of fresh flavors.

Local seafood is next with banana leaf steamed mahi mahi over chocolate rice, Haulover snapper over coconut rice and upper Panhandle shrimp in Wessel's signature BBQ sauce. While I liked the balance of citrus and herbal flavors infused into the mahi, I'm a sucker for this sort of Louisiana-style BBQ shrimp. I could eat them by the bucketful, but I just got the one. The very last one in the place, actually.

And if that wasn't enough, more meat. That's a guava-glazed pork rib (not on the menu so I can't give details) and a slab of grass fed prime rib. The rib looks burnt, but that's just my lousy white balance since I tried to get in the glass of calabazza pumpkin soup in the back. It was actually very nicely caramelized and perfectly cooked through. Best savory dish of the night.

In the back you can also see the place setting. Here's a better look:
The little plastic containers are full of microgreen basil and amaranth grown by Thi Squire of C & B Farms who came by the table where we talked about varieties and uses of callaloo--more than you think on both counts. There's also bottles of Italian specialty vinegars which don't really fit into the event theme, but the head of the convivium, Donna Reno, must have some connections there as she does as many regional Italian events as ones featuring local cuisine. And there's a centerpiece of local herbs grown by Bee Heaven Farm that we were encouraged to take home and repurpose. I grabbed the basil and a bottle of the pinot grigio vinegar myself and just made a pretty good sandwich featuring both in supporting roles.

After all that food came the businessy bit. Donna introduced the new board of directors including two new positions--a Farm Liaison and a Community Development Director--and the new director of communication, Mandy Baca who happened to be sitting next to me and with whom I had quite an interesting discussion about the state of Slow Flood Miami and where it might be going next. Also, Donna declared herself President for Life and I was the only one who objected. She probably thinks I was just being a jerk, but I think term limits are important, particularly in this sort of small local organization. Also I was kind of being a jerk.

Then Chef Wessel talked about the importance of chefs working with local farmers and taking inspiration from local culture. It was rousing stuff; he should consider doing some lecturing on the topic.

And finally, dessert:
That's, kind of obviously, pecan and key lime pie. The key lime pie I really like. The drizzle of fresh lime juice over top balanced the sweetness of the filling and the loosely whipped cream was a lovely textural contrast to the custard and the crumbly crust.

And with the food gone, the crowd stampeded for the door. You know, coffee would help slow that down. They should have had some coffee. Otherwise, a well-planned and well-executed evening. Everyone involved should be pleased and proud of themselves.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Orange-lemon poppy seed muffins

I wasn't planning on making a post about this but I ended up making so many changes to the recipe I started with just fixing it up that I ended up with something entirely different. Even though it didn't turn out the best muffins I've ever had, it still seemed worth talking about.

I don't know about you, but I like to keep my muffins fairly austere. Not to the self-flagellant extremity of bran muffins, but I don't want a recipe packed with sour cream, yogurt or cream cheese either. If I wanted cupcakes, I'd make cupcakes. On the other hand, I'm not making health food here either, just something I don't feel entirely ridiculous eating for breakfast.

Ingredients for 12 muffins:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder (down from the original full Tablespoon. But given the under-risen results, maybe I'd use all of it next time despite the math saying it's too much.)
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon poppy seeds
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/6 cup orange juice (all lemon juice in the original, but I thought a little orange would round out the flavor.)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
three handfuls streusel topping (I keep a bag pre-mixed in the pantry. It's flour, rolled oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, some chopped walnuts.)
1 Tablespoon softened butter

0. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

1. Mix the dry ingredients in the first ingredients section in a large bowl. I included the zest and seeds with the dry so they'd get coated in flour and stay evenly distributed in the batter.

2. Mix the wet ingredients in the second section in a smaller bowl. The sugar is with the wet because you want it dissolved.

3. Mix the streusel topping with the butter using your fingers until it gets knobbly.

4. Form a well in the dry mix and pour the wet mix in. Stir just enough to moisten. Lumps are fine, whole layers of dry flour probably not.

5. Butter a muffin tin or use non-stick. Evenly distribute the batter using an ice-cream or coffee scoop. Top each with a sprinkle of the streusel. Pat it down a little so it sticks.

6. Open the oven door and leave it open for a moment for the heating cycle to click on. You want the muffins to start with a burst of heat to help them rise. Put in the muffin tin and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, turning halfway through.

7. You want them golden brown on top, dry in the middle, but not crusty crisp around the bottom. At 18 minutes, mine are a little over-baked.
When they look done, turn them out onto a dish towel. Alton Brown says to leave them upside down for better volume. I flipped them right side up for the picture and my volume wasn't a good as I had hoped so maybe he's right.

But they still look pretty good. Let's look inside...

Not too bad. Looks cakey and crumbly. And let's have a taste...

Huh, tastes kind of like cornbread. I wonder how that happened. The lemon is aromatic, but not tart. The crumb is soft and buttery--just a bit dry and with a little crunch from the poppy seeds. Just a little sweet. I think I hit the target I was aiming at in terms of richness, but the flavor is--let's put it charitably--subtle. There is a lot going on with the citrus, the whole wheat, the butter, the poppy seed and all the flavors in the streusel, but they're understated. A little dull on its own, but a spoonful of apricot jam sets things aright. Overall I'm happy, but next time I'm adding some flavor extracts or spices to boost the flavors.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

This is a test

I was trying out some new templates for the blog and accidentally erased a lot of widgets I was using. I've got the new three column display and tag cloud working, but I don't know if the feedburner feeds still work (or what to do if they don't). So, this is a test.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Simmered southern-fried chicken gizzards

This is a follow up to my previous chicken gizzard post. That, somehow, has become the top result on Google for people searching for information about buttermilk and chicken gizzards. On behalf of those information seekers (and my own curiosity), I wanted to directly compare the other popular method of prepping gizzards for frying: a twenty minute simmer.

Beyond that change, I did the same egg wash and used the same spiced flour which, it seems, has been sitting in my refrigerator untouched for the last two months. That shouldn't be a problem, should it? I'll edit the post and let you know if I get sick later today.

Here's the result:

The biggest difference, obviously, is that these gizzards are already cooked before they go into the oil. The simmered gizzards are noticeably more tender, but they're also less juicy than the buttermilk-brined gizzards. That's both from the cooking and the soaking so it's a pretty significant differential. It seems to me that if you want perfectly tender chicken, you shouldn't be cooking organ meats so I'm weighing the moistness more heavily. Advantage: buttermilk.

A second difference is in the texture of the breading. Compare the two pictures (here's the other) and you can see that the buttermilk-brined gizzards are significantly more knobbly-crunchy. It's the difference between KFC regular and extra crispy so a matter of personal preference. No advantage.

A third difference is in the flavor. I'm not sure I can fairly judge here as I salted the simmering water and that combined with the heavily salted flour coating over-salted the final results. Looking past that, the simmered gizzards are missing a dimension of tanginess from the buttermilk that I enjoyed and the gaminess has been minimized. I miss the added complexity. Also, the dryness of the simmered gizzards (probably even without the extra salt, I think) compelled me to use a sauce to compensate. I prefer having the option to dip or not to dip. Advantage: buttermilk.

A fourth difference is how long the recipes took. I made these for lunch on impulse and I was eating less than 40 minutes later. The buttermilk gizzards soaked for 48 hours. Advantage: simmering.

It comes down to convenience versus depth of flavor and texture. Isn't that always the way? I did happily finish my bowlful of simmered gizzards and I can't help noticing that I'm having lunch today and not two days from now so I can't be entirely negative here. But my foodie impulses can't be denied and I have to come down on the buttermilk-brine side if you can spare the time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hamersley's Bistro roast chicken

It's time for another roast chicken recipe. I've done several before, trying out various unusual techniques I've seen suggested for developing flavor, retaining moistness and getting even cooking. I've just created a new tag for those posts so click on "roast chicken" in the post-post tags if you're interested.

This one is a classic recipe from Hamersley's Bistro in Boston adapted by Bistro Cooking at Home by Gordon Hamersley in 2003, adapted from that by Relish Magazine in 2008 and mentioned in a pan of Minetta Tavern, the hot ticket in New York, in an Atlantic food section blog post last week.

All of that history aside, the interesting thing here is how the chicken is flavored with a wet herb paste. It's halfway between a marinade and a spice rub and, interestingly, it's got no salt in it. And you roast the chicken with a cup of glop still plastered all over it. I'm quite curious what that's going to do to the texture of the skin. I want to think it's going to bake up like a salt dome and hold in the chicken's juices, but that can't possibly work.

But before we get to that, the paste. It's made up of:
1 cup flat-leaf parsley (I included the stems as I do whenever there aren't any textural issues.)
2 cloves garlic
2 shallots
1 Tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper (Thank goodness I've finally upgraded my pepper grinder and didn't have to spend a half hour fruitlessly grinding away to accumulate a full Tablespoon.)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons dried herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary (replacing 1/2 teaspoon dried)

That all goes into the food processor, processed into a paste and slathered onto the chicken for a night in the refrigerator. Then it's just a light sprinkling of salt and pepper and into a 350 degree oven for an hour and a half or until a probe thermometer reads 170 degrees.

The recipe specifies putting it on a rack which I haven't got. Instead, I built an approximation out of wedges of potato and onion. I think I did a creditable job and it did keep the chicken's limbs outstretched, but the bottom ended up resting in the juices. I don't think I sacrificed a crispy chicken bottom (or top. I flipped the bird halfway through.) as even though most of the paste fell off, only small bits of skin out at the edges browned at all.

And, as you can, as soon as I started carving, the released juices (not a lot really) washed most of the rest of the paste away. Those juices I poured back into the pan and mixed with
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 Tablespoons lemon juice, and
1/2 head garlic that I had wrapped in foil and roasted alongside the chicken.

Not a half bad sauce, but the chicken is sufficiently moist and well flavored, so it isn't really necessary. It is pretty good with the potatoes, though. The infusion of flavor into the chicken is quite nice. It's just the right amount to enhance and not overwhelm the not-particularly-intense flavor of the meat. I'm particularly impressed with the juiciness of the breast meat, although that's probably because the chicken spent the second half of the cooking time with that side down soaking in the juices. I should have left it breast-side down the entire time. Then I might well have gotten crispy skin on the thigh-side. This is certainly on par with the other methods I've tried. There's no clear winner at this point, but that's only handicapping the Good Eats/ATK blend for all the butter you have to stuff under the skin.

I've got some interesting ideas about how a cobbled-together best-of method might work. Watch this space.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Assam pork curry

That's 'assam', the Malay word for tamarind, not the region of India. Although they have curries in Assam too. Particularly mild ones as Indian curries go, or so I read. Some of the recipes looked interesting so I'll probably be making one of those soon enough.

This is pretty much a bog standard Malaysian curry (found at the blog of a Malaysian woman sharing her recipes) so I'm not sure I ought to bother posting about it. But it uses lemongrass and curry leaves which I think tend to baffle folks when they show up in the CSA so it's probably worth putting another easy recipe out there. Also, I came up with a good trick with the coconut milk I want to share.

2/3 pounds stew pork, cut into bite-sized pieces or strips

spice mix:
4 Tablespoons finely chopped shallot
2 stalks lemongrass, mashed (the lemongrass I had in the house was pretty old and dried out so I grated it on my microplane instead. That made the most of its faded flavor, but I still had to add the zest of a lime to bolster it.)
2-3 stalks curry leaves, destemmed and bruised
(the recipe also called for 1 Tablespoon of curry powder, but every curry powder is different. I have no clue what mix of spices they use in Malaysian, but I'm reasonably certain the Madras curry powder I've got isn't it. I know I'm losing some complexity of flavor, but safer to leave it out.)
3 Tablespoons chili paste (I used sriracha which is probably not quite right)

sauce mix:
1/2 cup thick coconut milk
1/4 cup water (even thinned down by a third like this, thick coconut milk is thicker than the standard canned coconut milk you can find in the supermarket so, although it's tempting to just use 3/4 cup of that, don't. Instead, put a can into the refrigerator for an hour or two. The thick cream will separate and you can spoon it out leaving thin coconut water behind. Hokan, my favorite brand, is thicker than most and yielded over 3/4 cup of coconut cream, but most brands should give you plenty for this recipe.)
3 Tablespoons tamarind paste dissolved in 1/4 cup water and strained (the original recipe calls for just 2 Tablespoons of the paste plus 3 pieces of dried tamarind in the spice mix. If you can find dried tamarind, you should probably do that instead. And as long as I'm on the topic, I've seen fresh tamarind in the supermarket and I've been curious how to use it. Any advice would be appreciated.)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon soy sauce

0. Brine the pork. Otherwise you'll end up with dull bits of meat cluttering up a flavorful sauce.

1. Heat 2 Tablespoons of cooking oil over medium high heat in a medium saucepan until shimmery. Add spice mix and fry just a few seconds until fragrant. Add pork and stir to coat the meat with the spices.

2. Add the sauce mix and stir well. Bring to a boil then turn heat down to medium low. Cook down the sauce until it's a thick gravy and the pork is tender, 20-30 minutes.

(Alternately, you could use a large pan, giving you space to brown the meat and allowing the sauce to cook down faster. It's not an authentic technique, but it would add some nice flavor.)

Check the flavor balance and maybe bolster the tartness with a little lime juice or the heat with a little more chili sauce. Serve over rice, sprinkled with some cilantro or chopped curry leaves.

The flavor is a sweet-tart with a funky edge from the curry leaves which come through surprisingly well considering the strength of the other flavors. There's a background of heat from the sriracha and richness from the coconut milk, but they don't overwhelm the more delicate herbal and citrus notes. It's a pretty typical Malaysian combination of flavors. But then it's a pretty typical Malaysian combination of ingredients so that's only to be expected. If you like that sort of thing then that's the sort of thing you like. And if you don't, well, you should.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


My apologies for the extended suspense about how my mofongo turned out. Judging by the breakdowns of first my stove and then my internet connection (and also my glasses. It's been a tough week around here.), there are forces that don't want you to read this post. Unless Blogger goes down, I think they've failed.

So, mofongo. It's a traditional Puerto Rican dish: mashed green plantains--usually deep fried, but baked or steamed if you want a healthy version--mixed with some olive oil, some finely chopped garlic, a pinch of salt, and mashed chicharrones. That's the basic version and I stuck with it for this test batch.

During frying, the goal is to cook the plantains, but not to crisp them. I deliberately overcrowded the pan to discourage browning, but I wasn't entirely successful. I'm really starting to dislike these electric stoves. Give me a gas stove and I'll stop with the over- and under-cooking everything. The browned edges made mashing a bit difficult so I chopped the cooked plantain slices up first to break them up.

Without an internet connection to do my final research I had to rely on memory as to how much of everything else to add. I'm happy with the Tablespoon or so of oil for the one plantain, but I think I went overboard with the garlic. About a 1:2 ratio of pork rind to plantain seems about right, though.

Here's a typical presentation. The mofongo molded to stand up in a shallow pool of a well-flavored homemade chicken broth and topped with shrimp and a little hot sauce. You can also chop up the shrimp (or chicken or whatever) and use them as filling and then float the mofongo in soup like matzo balls, but I'm not going to that sort of trouble.

Huh, I don't get it. I overdid it with the raw garlic so maybe that's throwing me off. The chicharrones lose their crunch when mashed up and mixed into the moist concoction and their flavor diluted with the other ingredients. I don't see what the plantains add to this dish. They're awfully bland and fall apart in the soup to a sort of moist turkey stuffing sort of texture. It's not great.

I've double-checked and, other than the excess garlic, I made this by the book. But people do voluntarily pay for and eat mofongo and they wouldn't for what I just made so I don't know what the deal is. I guess I have to go out and get some so I can properly compare and contrast.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


It says "fried pork rinds" on the package so I always figured that's all there was to it, but it's actually a three step process. Two different three step processes, really. One for if you've got a big wood fire going to roast the pig you stripped the skin off of and one for a kitchen.

Step one is a 30 minute simmer. If you're starting from the whole pig, the point is to soften the bristles so you can scrape them off. If you're using skin and fat sliced off of a prepared pork shoulder, then there's probably no real point to it. The top Google result for "chicharrones recipe", at, leaves it off. They forgot to delete the 2 cups of water, though, so you can tell it was there in the recipe they copied. (They also left the Filipino-style condiment. Bit of a tip off there.)

If you're doing this over the fire pit, it's probably easier to keep the skin whole. Otherwise, slicing it into inch-wide pieces makes more sense.

Step two is baking the pieces at 250 or 300 degrees (opinion is divided) for three hours. Or just hang it an appropriate distance over the fire pit, quite possibly while still attached to the pig. Only a little of the fat renders, but they've browned a little and the fat softens as it cooks through which is important for the final texture.

Step three is deep frying for several minutes. The skin crisps and the fat puffs up as the moisture in it turns to steam. Theoretically, you should end up with a matrix of thin crisp fat surrounding air pockets. Not quite as styrofoam-esque as the industrially packaged stuff, but in that neighborhood. I had some trouble getting the pieces cooked through before the outsides over-browned. Probably my oil was too hot, but since nobody gave any instructions on how hot I was aiming for, I don't really know. These lovely golden brown chicharrones are gooily undercooked inside. I heated the oil back up and fried them for a couple more minutes. Also, a cut a slit in the side of each to make sure the oil could get in and do its work. I cooked them as long as I could before I was too concerned about burning and pulled them out. I think the result is about 90% there, but I'm not going to mess with them any more.

The result, once I've sprinkled them with salt, at least as good as the ones you can get at the corner bodega. Crisp with a series crunch on one side and a little chew on the other, good pork-fat flavor, really greasy. Much better than the supermarket sort and if you're going to eat something so very bad for you, it's best to make it worth your while.

I was wondering what to do with them beyond just snacking with beer. Looking around, I see that it's used in some stews, ground up and used as a condiment elsewhere, baked into cornbread. But the biggest application is in mofongo. I think I'll try making that.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Olive oil ice cream

I want to state up top that I didn't come up with the idea of olive oil ice cream. As I'm sure some of you already know, pouring olive oil over ice cream is an Italian tradition. Mixing it in is a pretty obvious next step and I'm far from the first to do it. I may be the first to make a Jeni Briton-style cornstarch and cream cheese olive oil ice cream, though.

The key to making this work is in both the choice of olive oil and exactly how much to use. I happen to have a big jug of La Española extra virgin. It's fruity, a little nutty and smooth without a lot of bite so a good choice for ice cream I think. I rather lucked out on that since I never know what I'm going to get when I buy a bottle of olive oil. I rarely buy a particular brand of olive oil since a) I always want to try something new and b) I keep forgetting to take notes on what I've tried, what it was like and how I liked it. I'm the same way with wine, really. As for how much to use, I decided to go with David Lebovitz's ratio of 1/2 cup of olive oil to 2 1/3 cups of dairy. I don't think I would have used so much I was making the decision on my own, but Lebovitz has rarely steered me wrong.

1 1/3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar (I realized belatedly that I only had demarara on hand--no white sugar--but I did a little taste test and liked the pairing with the olive oil so I went with it.)
1 scant Tablespoon cornstarch
2 Tablespoons cream cheese
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Mix cornstarch with a little milk and set aside. Whip cream cheese until fluffy and set aside.

2. Heat milk, cream and sugar in a medium saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Whisk in cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil. Simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in cream cheese, salt and olive oil. Cool, churn and chill.

I decided, since olive oil ice cream is often paired with chocolate sauce, to make chocolate stracciatella. If you don't remember from the first time I made them (or know from other sources in your full and rich lives), stracciatella are swirls of solid chocolate made by drizzling melted chocolate over ice cream spread out in a tray. I had some trouble getting my chocolate to drizzling consistency. Maybe my cocoa percentage was too high; it wasn't marked so no way to know for certain. So less stracciatella than clumpiatella. I broke it up as best I could and I think it turned out OK. Unfortunately, I forgot the step of firming up the ice cream in the freezer for an hour before drizzling so there was a fair bit of melting while I was fussing with the chocolate. If you want to see it done right, click on the link up there and see my first try at it.

For a finishing touch, I wanted a sprinkling of salt, also a traditional Italian thing. I tried fleur de sel, but it melted too easily into the ice cream. I liked the more intense effect of coarsely crushed sea salt instead.

If you've had Italian olive oil pastries you have a sense of the flavor of the ice cream. Smelling it is like sniffing a bottle of quality olive oil, but when you taste it, the sugar and cream round out the fragrant oil into a full fruity flavor. The match with the chocolate is unexpected, but the two are surprisingly close together, particularly with the addition of the molasses in the demerara sugar I used, and enhance each other. The salt brings out the fruitiness of the ice cream and brightens the flavor of the chocolate too so it's a very nice addition.

Oh, I've just had the idea to top it with balsamic vinegar instead of the salt. (I keep a little container of a 15-year balsamic at work as a condiment.) Just a few drops for a scoop of ice cream that's something else. The bright berry flavors of the vinegar sparkle against rich olive oil background and pair beautifully with the chocolate. Now I see why balsamic truffles exist. There's a whole new level of flavor going on that was missing earlier. That's definitely the way to go.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mamidikaya Kobbari Pachadi

I've noticed that people are finding this post through Google recently. If you're looking to reproduce a well-made version you've had, please look at my pictures and description down at the bottom of the page and let me know if I got in the neighborhood. I like what I made, but it may not be in any way "right" and I'm curious. Thanks much.]

Here's another recipe without much of a story behind it, I'm afraid. I just picked up a coconut, some mangoes and curry leaves from the CSA, and hunted until I found a recipe that used substantial amounts of all three. This is a raw mango-coconut chutney from, according to Sailus Food's website, Andhra which is a state in southeast India.

I found a fair number of variations on the dish, mostly varying the coconut to mango ratio and the spice level. This is about average in the ratio but it's tons spicier than most.

This was my second time opening up a coconut and my first time dealing with a fully ripe one. The husk was a lot more dried out and fibrous this time around which made it rather easier to deal with. I was able to get it all off without breaking open the hull. For opening the shell, I used the technique I've seen of striking the coconut along its equator with the back of a hatchet, rotating between blows and continuing until it splits. It worked pretty quickly and made a surprisingly clean split. I'm taking an inordinate amount of pride in an accomplishment monkeys and crabs manage daily; I'm not really sure why.

Some recipes specified using a green mango for sourness, but the green mangoes to get around here are just bland so I went with a more ripe one. I got lucky that the one I picked was fairly tart. I didn't think it was tart enough, though, so I used the standard Indian technique of adding tamarind to supplement.

1 teaspoon cooking oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons whole coriander seeds
3/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
whole dried red chillies to taste (I used 5 arbols for a good bit of heat)
8 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 stem curry leaves, removed from stem

1 cup freshly grated (or processed) coconut
3/4 cup raw mango, peeled and chopped
1-2 Tablespoons tamarind paste, loosened in 1-2 Tablespoons water and strained
salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon cooking oil
1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
1 stem curry leaves, removed from stem
2 dried red chillies, seeded and torn

1. Heat the teaspoon of oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add coriander, cumin and chiles and fry for two minutes until aromatic, reducing heat if the spices start to burn. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the garlic and curry leaves and fry for another minute until the curry leaves become aromatic. Remove to a small bowl to cool slightly.

2. Once the spices are cool enough to deal with, add to a food processor and process for a few pulses. Add the coconut, mango and tamarind and process for 2-3 minutes until it forms a coarse paste. [Looking at it at this point, I have little faith that this is going to result in anything edible.]

3. Clean out the small frying pan, add the 1/2 teaspoon of oil. Heat briefly over medium heat and add mustard seeds. Cover with a splatter screen and heat until the seeds pop. Add the curry leaves and chiles and cook for just a few seconds to bring out the flavors. Stir into the mango-coconut paste.

Serve over white rice topped with a couple spoonfuls of ghee.

Once again this is not a particularly visually attractive dish, but it's actually really good. It's creamy (no doubt from the coconut oil) --a little gritty, but without that unpleasant dried coconut chewiness. The flavor is complex: aromatically spicy, toasty and sweet. The coconut and garlic are prominent, both pleasantly toasty, but I'm not getting any mango flavor beyond the sweetness and not a lot of tanginess from the tamarind either. Still, they must be adding to the gestalt. There's surprisingly little heat considering how many hot peppers went into there, but there's a nice warmth in the aftertaste. I'm sorry I can't explain the flavor better; it's not quite like anything I've had before. Really good, though; I stand by that.