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Two Side Dish Recipes

It’s Labor Day weekend here in the US, so I’ve had the day off. As I sometimes do here around holidays, I thought I’d put up another kitchen-chemistry prep – two, in fact, that work together: grilled tomato salsa and grilled onion pickle. The recipes are adapted from those in Steve Raichlen’s Barbecue Bible, which I’ve found to be a very sound collection over the years. These will go with lots of things besides Mexican foods, naturally, and if there are extra onions left over I put them on sandwiches. Here you go:

For the onions, you’ll need one large red onion, peeled, but leave the root end intact. Put the onion stem side down and cut through the root center into halves, then quarters, then eighths. Grill these over high heat, turned so that they get cooked and somewhat charred around the edges – leaving the root end intact keeps them together during this process. Let them cool down a bit, then cut off the root tips so the sections can separate, and place them in a bowl with around 1 cup (c. 200 to 250 mL) of 3:1 fresh lime juice/orange juice (see below – this mixture shows up again in the salsa recipe) and at least two teaspoons (11g) of table salt, or to taste. Leave these soaking at room temperature for at least an hour.

Salsa and onions

For the salsa, you’ll need about five good-sized plum tomatoes. I recommend the plum/paste varieties because there’s less liquid in the final product, but feel free to use whatever you have on had. Take these and grill them as close to the flames as you can get, turning them frequently until they’re charred on the outside and peeling a bit. You don’t want to cook them through or even soften them too much, but do be sure to blacken them. Let the tomatoes cool back down to RT for the next step.

If you have a food processor, put the tomatoes in it and give it a quick pulse or two to break them up (otherwise you can cut/mash the tomatoes with whatever implements you have handy). Add two cloves of minced or mashed garlic, enough fresh cilantro (coriander leaves) to fill a half-cup (125 mL) volume (not packed down!), 1 teaspoon of salt (5 to 6 grams, or to taste), and 3 tablespoons (about 45 to 50 mL) of the 3:1 lime juice/orange juice mixture that was used for the pickled onions above.

You can at this point also add chili peppers if you like. This is a salsa from the Yucatán region, and I don’t think the locals recognize any category called “too hot”. So if you want to go Full Mayan, throw in a couple of habaneros (or more), but this is up to the end user. If you have never had habaneros or the closely related Scotch bonnet peppers, I recommend caution, because they can have enough capsaicin in them to drop a goat. You can also shake a bit of Tabasco, Cholula or your other favorite hot sauce in there, or leave it out entirely.

At any rate, pulse the food processor a couple of times more to mix in all these ingredients, or mix them in using your previous technique on the tomatoes. You can also adjust according to how chunky you’d like the finished product to be sometimes the plum tomatoes will have central parts near the stem end that just need to be fished out and/or thrown away, because trying to break them up with the food processor will overdo everything else. This can be eaten right away, but letting it sit for a while won’t do it any harm, either, although (depending on your tomatoes) you may have some liquid separate out. Enjoy!

22 comments on “Two Side Dish Recipes”

  1. Crocodile Chuck says:

    Scotch Bonnet chilis: Brrrrrrr…………………

  2. Guillermo says:

    Spanish typos: 1) it is Yucatan not Yucutan, 2) it is habaneros not habañeros

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Right you are! Fixed. . .

      1. Juan Pérez says:

        Making it Yucatán instead of Yucatan would also be appreciated, but the fixes are good.

        1. The Counsellor says:

          Do you know what a bolito is?

  3. peptoid says:

    “drop a goat” sounds like a fantastic (and very Australian) euphemism!

    1. tangent says:

      Wouldn’t Australian be a sheep?

      1. DanielDJones says:

        That’s New Zealand stereotyping. Not quite the same place.

  4. Jamil says:

    Absolutely love the flavour of scotch bonnets and sometimes it turns out that the flavour is extracted without it being inedibly hot. Must do more experiments.

    1. tangent says:

      If you work out a technique to produce a reduced-capsaicin flavor extract, I’d like to hear.

      Any odorant compound has to have higher vapor pressure than capsaicin, I assume. Let’s see, capsaicin (mw 305) has a vapor pressure like 10^-8 mmHg @r.t., versus “bell pepper pyrazine” I don’t have but its positional isomer is ~0.3 mm Hg. So vacuum distillation seems good if you have the gear for a decent vacuum.

      As a kitchen prep, oil-washing the capsaicin out of an aqueous slurry might be more plausible, but I worry it might strip out some of the flavor profile. Capsaicin logP 3.7, vs. (Z)-3-hexenal logP 1.4, that’s pretty good, but the pyrazine is estimated ~2.6, still different enough to work with?

  5. Anon says:

    3:1 OJ/LJ or 3:1 LJ/OJ?
    It is different for onions and salsa as written now.

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      You’d think I’d had a bottle of tequila before doing this post – fixed it! It’s majority lime juice. If you happen to have sour oranges like they do in Southern Mexico, you can just use that juice straight. The lime/orange combination is a substitute for that.

      1. DanielDJones says:

        I hate to bother you with one more typo; “cilantro”.


        1. Derek Lowe says:

          Hey, by this point I’m just happy that people are reading the post!

  6. Mark Thorson says:

    I had a big failure in my Labor Day food preparations. I was making vegan chocolate truffles. This merely swaps out the heavy whipping cream with coconut milk. The latter has about 1/3 the fat content of HWC, so it is necessary to reduce it by about 2X. I was aware that breaking the coconut milk was a hazard, but it never happened to me before. It did this time, but I didn’t notice before I poured it over the chocolate, so I ended up ruining the chocolate too. But I learned something. When reducing coconut milk over high heat, you have to keep stirring it to prevent it from boiling over. If stirring isn’t sufficient to prevent that, stop. You’re done. Don’t reduce the heat and keep stirring, like I did.

    1. Phil says:

      MT: Canned coconut milk has typically settled such that the cream rises to the top. You can simply decant the cream from an unshaken coconut milk can next time. This is what I do when I make Thai curry.

      1. Mark Thorson says:

        Hmm . . . I’ll consider that, but I think I’d be wasting a lot of material in the rest of the can. On the other hand, the value of my time reducing the coconut milk and the risk of breaking it may balance that out.

        1. CET says:

          +1 to Phil’s comment about the coconut cream, with three things to add:
          1) That prep only works if you get the coconut milk from Strem. (Sorry, couldn’t resist…)
          2) If you want to make sure there’s a fair amount of cream in there, it sometimes helps to leave the can undisturbed in the fridge overnight (and under no circumstances should you shake the can, ever).
          3) The leftover coconut milk is delicious – you can add it to tea, coffee, hot chocolate, desert cocktails, milkshakes, cereal, use it to block your western blots, or drink it straight.

        2. Phil says:

          Well, most of what you’re wasting would be water. You could pour it into a sep funnel to minimize the loss of creamy goodness.

          1. Mark Thorson says:

            I suppose this might be a good reason to buy a centrifuge. Might have some other uses in the kitchen, like pulling fibrous matter out of sauces.

          2. Mark Thorson says:

            Another thought. Maybe it would work to take the can of coconut milk and use some iron or copper wire to attach it to a wheel of my car and drive around a little bit. That would be a lot cheaper than buying a centrifuge which I would not use often, and lab centrifuges have a really low capacity. I’d need something like the type used for a Babcock test. Some of those are antique cast iron and hand-cranked, which I like.

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