Does this happen every summer? This glorious wealth of vegetables! The mild-mannered and orderly garden we left in early July has turned into a jungle of wild exuberance…bean tendrils reaching into space and dangling fat green pods…tomato vines loaded with fruit and clamoring for new territory…cucumbers and squash taking over the pathways …corn waving like sparklers in the sky…Everyone is shouting for attention–Pick me! Pick me! And so I do. Bounty from the garden turns into sumptuous summer meals.
All this New-World produce–tomatoes, potatoes, beans, squash, corn, hot chiles and sweet peppers–begs for a Mexican meal, so that is a good place to start. I put on a pot of pinto beans to simmer and started to think about delicious things to cook on the grill and put in tortillas.
Grilled Tomato and Green Chile Salsa
This is so good, I feel like I’m in Mexico! You can make this on a stovetop griddle or under a broiler, but the grill is more fun and gives a smoky flavor.
Heat a charcoal fire or gas grill to medium. Wrap a head of garlic in foil and place it on the grill (or place 6-8 unpeeled individual cloves on an iron skillet over medium heat for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally until soft). Grill 6 to 8 red-ripe plum tomatoes, 5 to 6 minutes per side, until the skin is blistered and blackened in spots. Grill 1 or 2 green Anaheim chiles and/or 2 to 4 jalapeno or serrano chiles (or any other hot green chiles you might have) until blistered and softened (you can do this on a skillet, too). Cut a medium-size white onion into thick slices (or use large green onions with a bulb) and grill or skillet-roast about 10 minutes.
Pull the skins off the garlic cloves, remove the stems, seeds and loose skin from the chiles and put them in a large mortar or food processor. Mash them with a pestle, or pulse in the machine to finely chop. Add the onion and peeled tomatoes and chop until the salsa is the consistency you want–chunky or smooth. Add 1 or 2 tsp fresh lime juice or cider vinegar, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves, and salt to taste.
Salsa Cruda/ Salsa Fresca
Fresh tomato salsa. Make it when the tomatoes are fully ripe and full of flavor. Make it with a sharp knife and a cutting board, or in a food processor if you must. Tomatoes, onions, chiles, and garlic–that’s the basics, and it’s all you need.
Cutting board method: Chop about 1 pound ripe tomatoes (I use 6-8 small plum tomatoes) into 1/4-inch dice. Dice a small red or white onion to make about 1/2 cup. Finely chop fresh hot green chiles (stemmed and seeded)…one, two, three or more jalapeno or serrano chiles for whatever heat you like. Mince some garlic to make about 1 Tbs. Toss it all together in a bowl and add 2 or 3 tsp fresh lime juice, salt to taste, and a handful chopped cilantro. Eat soon! It’s best eaten within a few hours.
Note: Salsa isn’t just for chips. Use it as a topping for grilled meat, chicken or fish… or eggplant with a bit of crumbled cheese…add it to a stir-fry of shrimp or a pan of scrambled eggs…or a salad of white beans and arugula…or black beans, corn, and roasted red pepper. When do you not want salsa?
Calabacitas is a Mexican name for a squash and corn sauté with roasted chiles. It can be made as a sauté, but I like to grill these vegetables and toss them together with toasted cumin seed and a squeeze of lime.
Prepare a charcoal fire or heat a gas grill to medium.
Grill the vegetables: Cut 2 or 3 medium zucchini lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices or 6-8 wedges. Cut 2 small onions into quarters (hold them together with a toothpick). Coat the vegetables with vegetable or olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Grill the zucchini and onions, 2 or 3 ears of corn in their husks and 2 whole green chiles (poblano or Anaheim or other mildly hot chiles) 5 to 6 minutes per side, until lightly charred outside and tender inside.
When done, chop the zucchini and onions, cut the corn from the cob, cut the peeled and seeded chiles into strips, and toss them all together. Add a tsp toasted cumin seed, a handful chopped cilantro leaves, a Tbs chopped fresh oregano or mint, a tsp or so fresh lime juice, and salt to taste.
Variations: To make Calabacitas as a sauté, heat 2 Tbs olive oil and 1 1/2 cups small-diced onion in a sauté pan or Dutch oven. Cook over medium-low heat, covered, for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, raise the heat to medium, and sauté another 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 Tbs butter or oil to the pan and stir in 2 cups small-diced zucchini. Cook, stirring occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in 2 generous cups fresh corn kernels-off-the-cob, 1 finely chopped garlic clove, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook until the corn is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp ground cumin seed and 1/2 tsp toasted whole cumin seed; cook 30 seconds. Before serving, top with some chopped mint and oregano leaves and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Note: Char-roast the poblano or other green chiles over a direct flame or under the broiler. Peel, seed, and cut the chiles into strips. Add to the sauté.
Mix any leftover Calabacitas with 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans and plenty of fresh herbs for a hearty salad. Dress with more lime juice or Cilantro- Lime Dressing (below).
Green Bean Salad with Cilantro-Lime Dressing
I use skinny French beans (haricots verts) for this salad. A pound of beans (5 to 6 handfuls) will make 4 to 6 servings. Trim off the stem ends and boil the beans in salted water about 3 minutes, until tender-crisp. Scoop the beans out and place in a colander to cool.
Thinly slice a medium- size red onion. Toss the onion with the cooled green beans and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Make the dressing: Mash 1 or 2 garlic cloves with 1/4 tsp kosher salt to make a paste. Mix the garlic paste with 2 Tbs fresh lime juice, 1/4 cup salsa verde (green tomatillo salsa), and 1/2 cup olive oil. Whisk to combine and stir in 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Toss the beans and onion with several Tbs of dressing. Garnish with more chopped cilantro (or mint) and halved cherry tomatoes.
Note: this dressing is also delicious on a salad of shredded cabbage and carrot… or jicama, cucumber, and avocado.
Grilled Chicken with Yucatecan Marinade
I love the flavors of this herby-citrusy marinade. The combination of fresh orange juice and lime juice, with the addition of the zest, tries to approximate the flavor of the wonderful sour oranges of Mexico. You can play around with the herbs: I use combinations of cilantro, oregano, marjoram, anise hyssop, lemon balm, and mint. The marinade is too good to save for grilling chicken–try it as a dip for cucumbers, summer squash, grilled eggplant…or melon!
Make the marinade (enough for 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs): In a blender, combine 2 or 3 garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper corns, 1 tsp toasted and crushed cumin seed, a big pinch ground cloves, 1/8 tsp cinnamon, 1 1/2 Tbs fresh oregano leaves, 2 or 3 Tbs fresh mint leaves, 3 Tbs fresh orange juice, 2 Tbs fresh lime juice, The zest from 1/2 orange and 1 lime, and 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil. Puree smooth.
Other options: Add 1 fresh serrano or jalapeno, or 1 or more tsp red chile sauce or chipotle en adobo. Substitute 3 or 4 Tbs cilantro, lemon balm, anise hyssop, or Thai basil for the oregano and mint…or try other herbs.
You can leave the chicken pieces whole, or cut them into 1/2 to 3/4-inch chunks or strips to grill on skewers. Pour the marinade over the chicken and turn to coat well. Cover and refrigerate 1 up to 8 hours. .
Prepare a charcoal fire or heat a gas grill to medium (or heat the broiler on high). Soak skewers in water, if using. While the grill heats, take the chicken out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature. Sprinkle the meat lightly with salt. When the fire is ready, grill or broil the chicken, without moving, from 4 to 6 minutes (skewers will take less time), until dark brown grill marks appear. Flip and grill until cooked through–4 or 5 minutes more. Thigh meat may need an extra minute or so. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Cut the chicken into thin slices or remove from the skewers; place on a bed of thinly sliced onion and chopped arugula or salad greens, with a sprinkling of cilantro or mint leaves.
Serve with hot corn or flour tortillas.