This is not a Coldplay joke.
A while back I got this brilliant idea. I don’t mean the kind of brilliant idea that results in a Nobel prize or you know, even a local Emmy. I mean the kind of brilliant idea that lands you on some home video clips show or a TikTok narrated by an appropriately snarky teenager.
Ok, maybe not that far out there. I decided I would do some monochromatic menus. At the time, I was mostly thinking about white food. It was midwinter. I decided to do a menu that was mostly white but then I went and ruined it by putting mushrooms on it. To be honest, that was neither my greatest menu nor my greatest idea.
I’m not claiming this one is either of those. But it’s not white.
Mostly, it’s yellow.
Of course, that’s not the thing tying these dishes together. They’re inspired by south American dishes that I love – and they’re great for a long hot summer evening.
Yellow Pepper Ceviche
Ceviche are perfect summer dishes because … well, really because they’re cold. But also because they’re a way for people who’re maybe not completely totally comfortable with raw seafood to enjoy raw seafood. The acid in the marinade partially “cooks” the fish – so if you’re a little squidgy about the raw part you can tell yourself it’s not raw.
It’s raw. Really. The “cooks” is in quotes because it doesn’t cook it. It does break down some portioned in a way similar to cooking, but it’s not really cooking. But don’t be afraid if it for that reason. Be afraid of it because unless you’re making it yourself, or you’re you know – in the Midwest where mayonnaise is considered spicy – a real ceviche can be perfectly wonderfully face numbingly spicy.
Me, I like it that way. I recognize not everyone does. You can choose which sort of chili you want to use, and whether or not to include the seeds and ribs. Seeds and ribs carry most of the heat, so leaving them out will give you a much milder chili.
I use pureed yellow bell pepper as a base here because it’s easier and cheaper than Aji Amarillo (which I am using in one other recipe here this week) but also because it’s mild. That lets you customize the heat level yourself by using other peppers to build the spice profile.
Also, it’s really cool looking. It’s intensely bright yellow. And we all know looking cool matters.
1 lb fresh red snapper filet
1 large yellow bell pepper
1 hot pepper (serrano, red finger, fresno, jalapeno)
¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 tbsp finely minced red onion
1 tbsp finely minced cilantro
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
green onion, cilantro, edible flowers for garnish
Remove the stem and seeds from the yellow pepper and cut into 1 inch pieces.
Add the pepper and lime juice to the container of a high-speed blender, and process on high until very smooth.
Pour the resulting liquid through a fine strainer to remove any solids and reduce foaming.
Trim, and very finely dice the peppers. You may choose to remove the seeds and ribs (milder) or include them (spicier).
Add the diced chilis, red onion, minced cilantro, salt, and red onion to the pepper and lime mixture.
Cover tightly and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Remove the skin from the fish by placing it skin side down on a cutting board, and gently running a long knife the length of the filet.
Discard the skin (or use to make fish stock for paella!) and cutting on the bias (diagonally) cut the filet into very thin slices.
5 minutes before serving pour a portion of the marinade into a bowl, add the fish, and pour the remaining liquid over the top.
Garnish with fresh herbs and edible flowers.
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South American Style Paella
This isn’t a classic Valencian paella, which I take as an excuse to essentially ignore the orthodoxy that tends to go with that dish (seriously, google it, there are full on internet controversies about things like “are there onions in this” that involve all caps screaming matches – and that’s just the ones in English.)
This is a Paella as filtered though my experiences with Paella as filtered through the myriad wonderfully cuisines of central and South America. On of the key differences, instead of using Saffron, this uses Achiote or Annatto (different names for the same thing) paste - a red seed that amongst other things, is often used to make orange cheese … well, orange. It’s got a warm, slightly floral, flavor and it’s a great replacement for saffron - and you’re way less likely to make a dish that ends up tasting like cologne. It’s probably not a Paella at all, if you’re gonna be picky, call it rice with stuff. It’s still good. Really good.
I had planned on putting this dish together with some gorgeous head on shrimp that I had carefully vacuum sealed and frozen. Head on shrimp are perfect for this dish because the heads express even more delicious juices as the cook – further flavoring the rice.
Alas, my head on shrimp went the way of … well, about 30 lbs of other stuff we lost in last week’s epic power outages. Just imagine that this is a far prettier and more exotic looking dish.
1 lbs peeled deveined shrimp
2 cups short grained rice
2 cups seafood stock
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup diced dry chorizo
½ cup frozen green peas or blanched fresh green peas
2 large tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp annatto (achiote) paste
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tbsp finely minced cilantro stems
½ cup cilantro leaves for garnish
Peel, trim, and finely mince the garlic.
Trim, seed, and very finely chop the tomato.
Add the olive oil to a large paella pr frying pan over medium low heat.
Add the minced garlic, cilantro stems, and chopped tomato to the pan and sauté until the tomatoes are broken down.
Add the diced chorizo, and cook, stirring frequently until much of the fat has rendered out.
Add the annatto paste and paprika and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the rice and cook for 2-3 minutes – or until the rice lightens, stirring constantly co fully coat the rice with oil.
Add the white wine, and cook, stirring frequently, until fully absorbed.
Add the seafood stock, and peas, stir well, and reduce to very low.
Arrange the shrimp on top and cook until the liquid is fully absorbed, and the shrimp are cooked through.
Top with cilantro leaves and serve hot.
Papas Huancaina Style Potato Salad
I first encountered Salsa Huancaina - the amazing sauce on which this heritical chimera of a dish is based - at a Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco’s west portal district sometime in the early 2000’s. It happened to be across the street from a great old cinema that showed both art house movies, and Hollywood blockbusters – so it became a pretty regular stop. They served both a traditional Papas Huancaina – boiled potatoes with this magical cheese and chili sauce, and a chicken breast served in a. similar way. At the time, I avoided the cold potatoes because I was a weird midwestern kid without a lot of experience. I always ordered the chicken. It was good, but I was missing out.
This is basically my take on Papas Huancaina. Instead of large potatoes sliced out, I use whole slightly-larger-than-marble yellow potatoes, and treat it as a potatoes salad. The result looks almost like American style mustard potato salad, but there’s just so much more going on.
1 lb small yellow potatoes
½ red onion
1 tbsp minced cilantro or parsley
½ cup evaporated milk
¼ cup sliced kalamata olives (or Peruvian olives if you can find them)
¼ cup Aji Amarillo paste*
¼ cup queso fresca**
1 large flour tortilla, torn into pieces
4 cloves garlic
½ tsp kosher salt
Peel and trim the garlic.
Add all the evaporated milk, pepper paste, cheese, garlic, salt, and tortilla pieces to the container of a high-speed blender and process until very smooth.
Transfer sauce to a covered container and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before use.
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.
Add the potatoes, reduce to a simmer, and cook until very tender – usually about 30 minutes but dependent on the size of the potatoes.
Remove the potatoes from the hot water, and transfer to a cold-water bath.
Using your fingers, peel off the skin of the potatoes.
Arrange in one layer on a plate and refrigerate uncovered until chilled.
Peel, trim, and cut the ½ onion into slices from end to end.
Carefully fold together the sauce and potatoes, gently turning to ensure the potatoes are completely coated.
Add the sliced onions, the olives, and the cilantro or parsley and serve immediately.
*Aji Amarillo paste is available at many international markets, or online. If you are unable to find it, you can substitute roasted yellow peppers with a generous pinch of cayenne.
* You can find many varieties of Queso Fresco at many international markets. Many neighborhood groceries in the United States carry Mexican style brands such as Cacique – which I used in developing this recipe.
Not Actually Banana Flan
This rich simple custard pulls two magic tricks. It makes its own sauce, and it tastes like bananas. That second one is a trick because there aren’t actually any bananas in it. Cinnamon scented cream, vanilla, eggs, and caramel combine to make … well, a banana flavor that isn’t bananas. It might not actually be magic – but it kind of seems like it to me.
It’s also a cheaters version of a classic flan. Rather than baking a custard, we’ll set it with gelatin and cornstarch. It’s 90% perfect with 30% effort.
1 cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
11 cup granulated sugar, divided
3 egg yolks
1 1-inch piece cinnamon
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp corn starch
3 sheets gelatin or 1 packet powdered gelatin
pinch of salt
Bloom the gelatin in 1 tbsp cold water.
Add the milk, cream, and ½ cup sugar to a thick bottomed pot over medium heat.
Add the sugar and crumble the cinnamon stick into the milk.
Heat until just simmering, then remove from the heat.
Strain to remove the cinnamon then return to the pan.
Stir the gelatin into the hot milk mixture.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites, cornstarch, and vanilla.
While whisking vigorously, slowly pour 1/3 of the milk mixture into the egg mixture.
Reverse the process, and – while whisking - slowly pour the tempered egg mixture back into the pan with the remaining milk.
Return the pan to the heat, and stirring frequently, cook until the mixture just simmers.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Add the remaining ½ cup of sugar to a dry pan over medium low heat.
Cook undisturbed until the sugar has melted completely and turned a rich caramel color.
Carefully pour the burnt sugar mixture into 4 glass bowls or ramekins, turning to evenly coat the sides, and letting a thicker portion form on the bottom.
Allow the sugar to cool completely.
Pour the custard mixture into the bowls or ramekins.
Carefully place a sheet of plastic wrap on the surface of the custard (this will prevent a skin from forming)
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
To serve, invert the custards in a bowl or on a deep plate.
The custard will release (though sometimes it takes a minute) and the dissolved caramel will both form a sauce and color the tops of the custards.