One of the things that's fun about cooking is figuring out how to use the leftovers. And, often, the leftovers are way more better than the thing you originally made. So...we're gonna cover three things here: Nemo's Mango-Chipotle Pico de Gallo; Southwestern Quinoa Pilaf; and something I have yet to name, that involves both of those and a couple of chicken breasts.
Saturday we knew Erin would be coming home from seeing her dad down in New Orleans. Before leaving, I promised her I'd cook her something when she got back. She replied with "Salsa!" So, that was pretty clear direction.
Also, I'd spent the week eating food that was a long way from healthy. I craved leafy, bitter greens (crazy healthy).
And, I knew I needed protein but healthy protein.
I wasn't sure what I was gonna do for the salsa but I saw Mangoes at the store and it pretty much fell in line. Years ago, I stumbled across a recipe on the Food Network called Pico de Gallo de los Vaqueros. It was pretty good. But I knew I could improve it...or more accurately, make it something I'd like more (and I already liked it). Additionally, I got to throw together some tacos once for my friend Juan-Carlos Morales. He liked sweet with a lot of heat. That was my basis for pumping up the volume on the heat and adding a bit more sweet to the base I was working off of.
What I like about this salsa is I've got some that are really great as dipping salsas but aren't great as part of a recipe. I've got others that are good in recipes but are boring as standalones. This one does well on both fronts.
8-10 Roma tomatoes, small dice
4 green onions, white and green parts, diced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves chopped
1 large jalapeno pepper, minced
1 large ripe mango, peeled and small dice
4 garlic cloves, dry toasted in a skillet, minced
2 or 3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce small dice
2 limes zested and juiced (only zest one lime)
1-2 tsp honey (optional)
drizzle of olive oil
Pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat and drop the garlic, unpeeled, into it. No oil. You're toasting. You'll let it go 10-15 minutes and you'll want to turn them a couple times. You want the cloves to get a little blackened. A little.
BIG ASS IMPORTANT NOTE (BAIN): You don't have to toast the garlic. Toasting mellows it a little and brings out an earthiness that I find really good. This salsa will still be stupid good if you don't toast the garlic. If you're not toasting it, cut it back to two cloves, mince the beejeesus out of it, and throw it in the bowl with everything else.
While that's going on, cut the core ends off the tomatoes, cut them in quarters, and use your thumb to remove the jelly and seeds. If you're a purist, cut out the ribs inside the tomatoes and discard. If you're me, what the hell, they still taste good (if the tomatoes are really ripe) so use 'em. Dice the tomatoes pretty small. (Don't forget to turn the garlic if you're toasting it).
Do what you gotta do with the rest of the stuff, not including the jalapeño or chipotles, or the honey...we'll get to those in a minute. Add the rest of the stuff to the bowl, give it a stir.
If you want hot (and I did) don't remove the ribs and seeds from the jalapeño or chipotle...if you want mellowed, remove the ribs and seeds. Also, if you aren't sure, do one jalapeño and one chipotle. Put them in with the rest and let it sit for about 15 minutes.
Do something useful...like remove the garlic from the skillet and peel it. Mince it. Stir it in. Give the salsa a taste. If it feels like it could use some more heat, add another chipotle.
Zest one lime and add that and the juice of two limes to the salsa. Give it another taste. Now it's time for the honey. If you've got height of the season, really ripe tomatoes and mango, you probably won't need any honey. I had really sweet tomatoes and a mango that wasn't all the way there, I added a teaspoon of honey. If the tomatoes had been sorta meh, I would have added another.
Stir it all up, drizzle some olive oil and hit it with a little salt and pepper. Put it in the fridge for 45 minutes to an hour. The mix of hot and sweet will change as the flavors hangout together. So let it hangout. Before serving, give it another taste and adjust salt, honey or lime juice as you feel it.
If you want to be all anal-retentive about it, before you serve, strain out all the excess liquid. I don't like doing that, but that is what would make it a proper Pico de Gallo.
(Really) Spicy Southwestern Quinoa Pilaf
Quinoa is healthy. It looks and acts like a grain. You cook it just like white rice. But it's a berry and it's a complete protein. It's a nutritional bad ass.
There are a few different kinds of quinoa. There's the yellow quinoa that is most prevalent. The red quinoa which has a strong nutty flavor. And black, which I just thinks tastes like hell. I prefer the red.
BAIN: Quinoa has a seed casing that has a ghastly after taste to it. To get rid of it, all you have to do is rinse it off. Most pre-packaged quinoa is already washed. If you buy bulk, you gotta rinse it.
This recipe started with America's Test Kitchen but looked a little...hmm...boring. So I punched it up.
12 oz box quinoa (about 1 2/3rds cups)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 serrano, ribs and seeds removed, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ teaspoon chipotle chile powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 3/4 cups water
4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled
1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped coarse
2 scallions, sliced thin
2 limes, juiced
BAIN: If you want heat, use the 1 1/2 tsp chipotle powder. If you want less heat but still a little heat, use 1/2 tsp chipotle powder and 1 tsp ancho chile powder (the chile powder you buy at most grocery stores that's just labeled "Chili Powder" is 95% likely to be ancho). If you want just a hint of heat, get rid of the chipotle powder altogether and just use 1 1/2 tsp of ancho chil powder. Ancho has very little heat, a little bit of a fruity taste, and that really earthy flavor chile's have.
Toast quinoa in medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until quinoa is very fragrant and makes continuous popping sound, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer quinoa to bowl and set aside.
Return now-empty pan to medium-low heat and melt butter. Add onion, chile pepper, garlic, chile powder, salt, and cumin; cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened and light golden, 5 to 7 minutes.
Increase heat to medium-high, stir in water and quinoa, and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until grains are just tender and liquid is absorbed, 18 to 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking. Remove pan from heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff quinoa with fork; stir in queso fresco, peanuts, scallions, and lime juice; and serve.
It packs a punch.
USING UP THE LEFTOVERS - POACHED CUMIN CHICKEN WITH QUINOA AND PICO DE GALLO
Sunday rolls around and I've got a bunch of leftover salsa and quinoa. I want to do something with those leftovers but I don't want to have the same thing again.
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ancho chile powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup white wine
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 lemons juiced
2 oranges, juiced
Put a skillet over medium high heat, add the oil. Let it get hot. Hit the chicken with salt, pepper, cumin and chile powder. Both sides. Rub it in. Add chicken to skillet. Cook for 3 minutes per side, to brown it. Remove from skillet and set aside. It is not even close to cooked through.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Add a splash of wine to deglaze the pan and scrape up the brown bits. Whisk together wine, soy sauce, orange juice and half the lemon juice. Add in 2-3 tbsp of Nemo's Pico de Gallo and put chicken back in skillet and add the wine mixture. Increase heat to high. Bring it to a simmer, cover, reduce to medium low and cook for 20 minutes.
While the chicken is poaching, put a non-stick skillet over low heat and add just a drizzle of olive oil. Put leftover (Really) Spicy Soutwestern Quinoa Pilaf in and hit it with the rest of the lemon juice (or lime, whichever you have) to wake it up. Add a splash of water, cover, and let it warm up slowly.
With a couple minutes left in the cooking time on the chicken, take the internal temp with a meat thermometer. It should be approaching 160 degrees. If it isn't, turn the heat up, add a few more minutes and cover.
When chicken is done, remove and set aside. Reduce heat to low. Using two forks, pull the chicken breasts apart. Put down a bed of quinoa on the plate, add chicken. Take 2-3 tbsp of sauce from the skillet and drizzle over the chicken. Top with a heaping spoonful of the leftover Pico de Gallo.