Ron and I were introduced to a delicious new sauce called zhoug (pronounced zoog) when we were visiting our friends, Bonnie and Don, in Long Beach, California early this year – just before COVID-19 changed the world.
Bonnie is the queen of making fabulous food – FAST! I treat cooking as an exercise in meditation and I putter and play while I create. Bonnie, on the other hand, has learned the art of getting meals prepared quickly so she can move on to do other things she’d rather spend time on. She picked the zhoug sauce up at Trader Joe’s and Ron and I absolutely fell in love with it. We picked up extra to bring home to Mexico, but the supply didn’t last very long. The answer, then, was to figure out how to make it myself!
Zhoug originated in Yemen but is now enjoyed in many other parts of the world (our friend, Henry, remembers having it while living in Israel). I’m a huge fan of chimichurri, but find that zhoug is brighter, spicier, greener and fresher. I use it on and in everything, literally, and it makes the BEST guacamole when mixed into mashed avocado. Using a food processor, this literally takes 10 minutes to make and clean up. Give it a whirl – literally!
3 cloves garlic
2 Serrano chiles, seeds and membranes removed and cut in big chunks
1 large bunch cilantro, washed and dried
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. dried crushed chile flakes
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Place all ingredients (except olive oil and lemon juice) into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until chopped fine. Add olive oil and lemon juice and blend into a coarse paste.
Store in a sealed, glass jar in your refrigerator for up to a week (if it lasts that long!).
For the longest time, I was struggling with why I would continue to write a blog for my website. My posts were becoming fewer and far between. My three books, Fire ‘n’ Ice, Light the Fire and The Hot Sauce Bottle Cookbook, are all out of print now and I have no immediate plan to reprint any or all of them. If my site was no longer supporting the sale of books or some other direct “purpose”, why then would I continue writing blogs?
Then COVID-19 struck! Let’s face it, the pandemic has forced everyone to look at the world differently and I am certainly no exception. It FINALLY occurred to me that I should make my books available in electronic format! So, the process is underway to do exactly that so that people can still enjoy the books and order them online for immediate download. Voila – the solution!
So, stay tuned as I continue to get the ebooks set up for online sales, which gives me the inspiration to begin writing more about our adventures and “cooking with fire”!
I bought an Instant Pot last season and brought it down to Cabo. I’ve had a lot of fun playing with it and experimenting with foods and recipes.
Ron has told me often about a recipe he used to make that he absolutely loved called Chili Colorado. The name has nothing to do with the State of Colorado, but rather the color of the sauce (literally colored red). This is a traditional Mexican stew made with either pork or beef and is wonderfully flavored with the combination of dried chiles used to make it: ancho, pasilla, and guajillo. Please note that these dried chiles should be pliable to ensure maximum flavor – if they are dried out, they will have far less to offer this dish.
3 cups chicken stock
5 ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
2 pasilla chiles, stems and seeds removed
2 guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder (beef roast may be used as well), cut into 3/4” pieces
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
8 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp. ground cumin
2 tbsp. fresh sage, chopped
2 tbsp. fresh Mexican oregano, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 – 14 oz. can of pureed tomatoes
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 bottle of beer
Heat chicken stock in a saucepan. When boiling, add the chiles, then cover and remove from heat. Let sit for about half an hour to allow the chiles to soften. Put the chiles and all of the soaking liquid into a covered blender and purée until very smooth.
Season the pork pieces with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in the Instant Pot using the Sauté function. Add the meat and brown. Add garlic, cumin, oregano. bay leaves, tomatoes, brown sugar and beer. Stir in the chile purée, cover and cook for 30 minutes using the Pressure feature and Pork selection.
The first night that we had this chili, I served it over white rice with a dollop of sour cream on top. The second night, I added some cooked kidney beans (many chili aficionados would baulk strongly at that!) and served it over baked potatoes, again with a dollop of sour cream on top. Neither of these treatments is authentically Mexican, as it would be served with Mexican rice, flour or corn tortillas and perhaps some beans a la charra on the side. However you like to enjoy it, this is a delicious dish that is prepared rapidly with the use of the Instant Pot.
While we’re staying in the Hamptons, we rent a basement suite from a dear Irish woman and her son in the village of Hampton Bays. As with any rental, the kitchen equipment is basic and you make the best with what you have to work with.
We had a large batch of fresh basil the other day that I decided to make pesto with (the organic and farm-stand produce available here is fabulous at this time of year). We had, I thought, all the ingredients and tools required to make it – until I started.
I threw everything into the blender and was starting to pulse before adding the oil and, as luck would have it, the motor seized up. I pulled everything out of the blender jar in batches and coarse chopped the fresh basil (~2 cups), garlic (4 cloves), and walnuts (~1/4 cup). I then took a round bottomed bowl and used the heel of a chef’s knife to create a mortar and pestle. Once I had the ingredients in the bowl pulverized to a coarse texture, I gradually introduced the olive oil (~1/2 cup) and mixed until smooth. I then stirred in the freshly grated Parmesan cheese (~1/2 cup) until just combined.
I had cooked some Casarecce pasta, added some beautiful sliced cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives and chopped roast chicken, but was concerned that I wouldn’t like the coarser texture that my handmade pesto would provide. I was delighted that we really enjoyed it and that the small bits of walnut, garlic, cheese and basil actually added to the dish. I’ve always made my pesto very smooth, but this was a huge learning for me that sometimes a more crude or handmade touch is the key to a great dish. I encourage you to give it a try sometime (or at the very least, pulse a bit less to get the same results)!
One year ago today, June 8, 2018, Anthony Bourdain died by his own hand in France at the age of 61. News of his suicide shocked the world as he appeared to be living and loving life to the fullest.
I literally ran into Anthony and his daughter, Ariane, about six years ago in Schmidt’s Market in Southampton, New York. We were both bent down to pick something up on a low shelf and got up at exactly the same time. He couldn’t have been more polite and I was surprised at how tall he was in real life and, in my opinion, far better looking than on television.
I always admired how “real” he made food and the tribute he paid to people and food culture around the world. What I admired most about him was his advocacy of the hard-working people from Spanish speaking countries: Mexico and the many countries of Central and South America. There is nary a restaurant kitchen in the United States that could or would function without these people and he championed his admiration of the people of Mexico in the following article entitled “Under the Volcano” which he wrote in May of 2014:
“Americans love Mexican food. We consume nachos, tacos, burritos, tortas, enchiladas, tamales and anything resembling Mexican in enormous quantities. We love Mexican beverages, happily knocking back huge amounts of tequila, mezcal, and Mexican beer every year. We love Mexican people—we sure employ a lot of them. Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, and look after our children. As any chef will tell you, our entire service economy—the restaurant business as we know it—in most American cities, would collapse overnight without Mexican workers. Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are “stealing American jobs.” But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had ONE American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position—or even a job as a prep cook. Mexicans do much of the work in this country that Americans, probably, simply won’t do.
We love Mexican drugs. Maybe not you personally, but “we”, as a nation, certainly consume titanic amounts of them—and go to extraordinary lengths and expense to acquire them. We love Mexican music, Mexican beaches, Mexican architecture, interior design, Mexican films.
So, why don’t we love Mexico?
We throw up our hands and shrug at what happens and what is happening just across the border. Maybe we are embarrassed. Mexico, after all, has always been there for us, to service our darkest needs and desires. Whether it’s dressing up like fools and get passed-out drunk and sunburned on spring break in Cancun, throw pesos at strippers in Tijuana, or get toasted on Mexican drugs, we are seldom on our best behavior in Mexico. They have seen many of us at our worst. They know our darkest desires.
In the service of our appetites, we spend billions and billions of dollars each year on Mexican drugs—while at the same time spending billions and billions more trying to prevent those drugs from reaching us. The effect on our society is everywhere to be seen. Whether it’s kids nodding off and overdosing in small-town Vermont, gang violence in L.A., burned out neighborhoods in Detroit—it’s there to see. What we don’t see, however, haven’t really noticed, and don’t seem to much care about, is the 80,000 dead in Mexico, just in the past few years—mostly innocent victims. Eighty thousand families who’ve been touched directly by the so-called “War On Drugs”.
Mexico. Our brother from another mother. A country, with whom, like it or not, we are inexorably, deeply involved, in a close but often uncomfortable embrace. Look at it. It’s beautiful. It has some of the most ravishingly beautiful beaches on earth. Mountains, desert, jungle. Beautiful colonial architecture, a tragic, elegant, violent, ludicrous, heroic, lamentable, heartbreaking history. Mexican wine country rivals Tuscany for gorgeousness. Its archaeological sites—the remnants of great empires, unrivalled anywhere. And as much as we think we know and love it, we have barely scratched the surface of what Mexican food really is. It is NOT melted cheese over tortilla chips. It is not simple, or easy. It is not simply “bro food” at halftime. It is in fact, old—older even than the great cuisines of Europe, and often deeply complex, refined, subtle, and sophisticated. A true mole sauce, for instance, can take DAYS to make, a balance of freshly (always fresh) ingredients painstakingly prepared by hand. It could be, should be, one of the most exciting cuisines on the planet, if we paid attention. The old school cooks of Oaxaca make some of the more difficult and nuanced sauces in gastronomy. And some of the new generation—many of whom have trained in the kitchens of America and Europe—have returned home to take Mexican food to new and thrilling heights.
It’s a country I feel particularly attached to and grateful for. In nearly 30 years of cooking professionally, just about every time I walked into a new kitchen, it was a Mexican guy who looked after me, had my back, showed me what was what, and was there—and on the case—when the cooks like me, with backgrounds like mine, ran away to go skiing or surfing or simply flaked. I have been fortunate to track where some of those cooks come from, to go back home with them. To small towns populated mostly by women—where in the evening, families gather at the town’s phone kiosk, waiting for calls from their husbands, sons and brothers who have left to work in our kitchens in the cities of the North. I have been fortunate enough to see where that affinity for cooking comes from, to experience moms and grandmothers preparing many delicious things, with pride and real love, passing that food made by hand from their hands to mine.
In years of making television in Mexico, it’s one of the places we, as a crew, are happiest when the day’s work is over. We’ll gather around a street stall and order soft tacos with fresh, bright, delicious salsas, drink cold Mexican beer, sip smoky mezcals, and listen with moist eyes to sentimental songs from street musicians. We will look around and remark, for the hundredth time, what an extraordinary place this is.
At a time when many Americans embrace everything Mexican from its food, beverages, imports, etc., Bourdain challenged the hypocritical attitudes towards immigration and was a tremendous champion of the underdog and stood up for these people who make up the backbone of many sectors of the American economy.
I love Mexico – its people, cuisine, culture, music and the beauty of the country itself. It is diverse, rich and beautiful. Thank you, Anthony, for being a champion for this amazing country and its people. Rest in peace.