I consider it a compliment when the grocery checker asks you about the food you've purchased, because they don't know what the heck it is. It's hard for me, really, not to say, "You work here, why don't you know?" But that's not my style. So I take it upon myself to enlighten them about the object and then launch into a treatise about how to prepare it.
I love how they look at me, too. Like I'm the secret keeper of the produce section. But most of what I learn comes from simply experimenting. Like when I decided to buy the 99 cent cactus pear and see if I could give it a whirl in my kitchen. They didn't need to know I was a cacti-newbie! That was my secret.
First of all. Cactus pears are SWEEET! And they are full of seeds that resemble those dotting a strawberry. But they're three times the size and will flip a filling right out of your tooth if you're not careful. If you're thinking biting into one, be CAUTIOUS. I peeled them and pureed them with lemon juice, then pushed the flesh through a strainer resulting in a beautiful claret colored juice.
When I first saw this little beauty...well, this ugly beauty, I thought about a salsa. Sweet and hot go so well together, and the little red hot chili pepper hiding underneath the bananas and bread in my basket was just begging for recognition. When I got home and saw the clementines and the pineapple on my counter, I immediately started to thaw the fish and set out to dazzle the little filet with color and flavor. (Ron was pretty dazzled, too!)
Now there's no need to tell you how good fish is fried in butter and coated with cornmeal. That's like saying chocolate is good with marshmallows and graham crackers. DUH!!! But when you put sweet and hot salsa on it...well...it just turns heads!
The moral of the story is be happy when you have to educate the grocery staff. It makes them remember you. And that comes in handy when you need help. Or more cacti. In any event, make this dish and take those folks in aprons and sensible shoes a few servings. You won't be forgotten after that!
RECIPE: Butter Fried Tilapia with Cactus Pear Pineapple Salsa
Serves 4 / Click here for printable version.
1 ½ lbs tilapia cut into 4 equal portions
½ C heavy cream
1 C corn meal
2 t kosher salt, divided
½ t black pepper
½ t coriander powder
¼ C sweet white onion diced small
1 ripe cactus pear, peeled
2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 C pineapple chunks, small (fresh is okay)
4 clementines, skinned, deveined & divided
4-5 large basil leaves julienned
1 t grated fresh ginger
1 T hot red chili pepper diced
1 T jalapeno diced
3 T butter, divided
2 T olive oil
(Serve with black lentils or black rice, or your choice of starch)
Black sesame seeds for garnish
Place the tilapia in the cream and let sit for about 15 minutes. Blend 1 t kosher salt and the pepper and coriander powder with the cornmeal in another wide dish and set aside.
Peel and cut cactus into large junks. Place in a small food processor with 2 T lemon juice. Process until smooth. Run through a mesh strainer and push through with a spatula to make sure all juice is extracted and no pith or seeds are in the juice. Add the fresh grated ginger to the cactus juice. In a small saucepan, melt 1 T butter. Add the onion and the two peppers, and 1 t kosher salt and cook for only a minute. You don’t want the butter to brown. Add the pineapple, clementines, and stir until hot. Add the cactus juice, turn the heat to medium low and let it reduce by half. Remove and cover until served.
In another clean pan, add the oil to a hot pan. Dredge the cream-soaked tilapia in the cornmeal and place in hot oil. Turn when the bottom is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Brown other side for 2 minutes. Turn to medium low and add t T butter. Let bubble and melt, making the edges of the fish crisp. To serve, place a serving of the salted lentils on the plate, top with the fish, and spoon a serving of the salsa over the top. Sprinkle with the basil and with the black sesame seeds. Serve!
I was fairly adept in the kitchen before I understood that you can make a salsa with just about anything. I mean anything. I've made salsas using mint and oranges. I've made them using kiwi, peach and cherries. And of course there's salsa with corn, cucumbers, even ginger as an ingredient. Just think about what benefits from a little zing, and either lime juice or another acid, and you can consider it a salsa.
In this case I am showcasing two dishes that make the most of salsa brilliance. One, a simple pan sauteed chicken breast with a pineapple and tomato salsa, (don't kid yourself. I loaded it up with other amazing flavors, too...) and secondly, a quick twist on a Mexican classic, the meat enchilada.
ONE - Take a look at this beauty. the secret is sauteeing the chicken in good flavors, then reducing it ever so slightly with a good white wine. Adding pineapple allows you a lot of latitude with other sweet flavors so I finished it with a few dots of fig balsamic reduced to a yummy syrup. And to serve it, I rested it atop quinoa cooked with a bit of jalapeno oil. It was just sweet enough and just savory enough to keep me entertained and cha, cha, charged about this new recipe.
TWO - The other salsa-sensational dinner is a twist on the meat enchilada (BELOW), wherein the tortilla is swapped for a tasty pastry you could hold in your hand. However, once you add a simple salsa that was quickly composed of canned tomatoes, canned ortega chiles, and some cilantro, it might be advisable to use a fork. I had a hard time not using my hands I wanted to eat it all so quickly! Resting on a plate of black beans and finished with some lime juice made this just about the prettiest enchilada I've EVER seen.
What's fun about this meal is the meat mixture that goes inside. You could use a tender skirt steak for fancy nights, but well seasoned hamburger with peppers, jalapeno and onion work just fine. By adding a little canned enchilada sauce and some cumin, you've gone all inventive without all the fuss.
Both of these meals were ridiculously simple and used a lot of ready-made ingredients that added lots of flavor in no time.
Check out the recipes below!
RECIPE: Pan Seared Chicken with Pineapple Tomato Salsa
Serves 4 / Click here for printable version.
4, 6 ounce boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut lengthwise
1 C canned seasoned diced tomatoes, such as basil and garlic flavored, drained
4 rings of canned pineapple cut into small chunks, reserving just a few T of the juice
1/3 small white onion chopped
1 large clove of garlic, chopped finely
½ t dried basil leaves
1/3 white wine such as a Riesling (or chicken stock)
3 T fig balsamic vinegar or other sweet, dark balsamic, cooked to thicken for about 5 minutes
2 T canola oil
1 T jalapeno oil if you have it, for the quinoa
1 C quinoa
¼ t ground coriander powder
Sprinkling of hot chili flakes
1 T salted butter
Salt and pepper
Heat 1 ½ C water and some salt as well as the jalapeno oil in a saucepan. When boiling add the quinoa. Stir, turn heat to very low, keep covered and cook for 20 minutes.
Heat a large saucepan to high and add 1 T canola oil. Add the onions and a little salt and pepper and cook until they are soft but some are browned. Add the pineapple juice, tomatoes, pineapple and chili flakes. Toss to coat and let cook until hot and all the flavors are cooked together which only takes a few minutes. Add the dried basil and a little more salt and pepper. Stir for a minute and then remove all the ingredients to a bowl and cover it. Do not wipe out the pan. Bring it back to medium high heat and add 1 T canola oil. Making sure the chicken is room temperature, sear on both sides for about 2-3 minutes and then turn the pan to medium low and let cook for about 4 minutes so the chicken can finish cooking on the inside. Now, add the wine and let it reduce for about 3 minutes. Add 1 T of the reduced balsamic and toss. By now your chicken should be just barely done. It’s important that all your pieces be the same size and not too thick so they cook evenly and not get over done. Now add back in the salsa, and stir it in with all of the balsamic and pan juices.
To serve, arrange the chicken over the quinoa and top with the salsa.
RECIPE: Meat Enchilada Hand Pies with Ortega Chile Salsa
Serves 4 - 6 / Click here for printable version.
1 package of pie crust mix, or your own homemade pie crust with enough for 2 crusts
2 T butter to grease baking sheet
1 lb 85% lean, grass fed ground beef
½ large red pepper diced
1 small jalapeno diced
1/3 C sweet onion diced
1 12 oz can enchilada sauce
½ t ground cumin
1 C chopped cilantro
1 15 oz can refried black beans
Juice from half a lime and the other half cut into 4 slices for garnish
1 C grated sharp cheddar cheese
1, 4 ounce can diced green Ortega chiles
3/4 C diced tomatoes drained
Salt and pepper
1/3 C heavy cream to brush onto pastry
In a large sauce pan, brown the meat. Then add the red pepper, onion, and jalapeno. Add salt and pepper to taste and cook until done. Add about 1/3 C of the enchilada sauce. Set aside.
In another pan, heat the black beans through. In a small pan or microwave safe bowl, heat the enchilada sauce with the cumin. Chop the cilantro. Cut the lime and juice half of it and add the juice in a bowl with the tomatoes, ortega chiles, about a third of the chopped cilantro, and a little kosher salt and black pepper. Set aside.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Grease the baking sheet. Roll out the pie crust dough very thinly and make 6 rectangles about 5 ½ inches by 8 ½ inches. Place about 1/3 C of the meat mixture in the center of the bottom half of the rectangle. Close over to make a pocket and seal. Can use a fork to make marks along the border with the tines if desired. Cut “x” into the top of each hand pie for steam to be released. Place hand pies on the cookie sheet, brush with a little cream, and bake for about 15 minutes until the pastry is browned.
To serve, place a serving of the refried black beans on the center of the plate, set the hand pie on top of that, add cheese, cover with some of the hot enchilada sauce, add some of the salsa, and sprinkle each serving generously with remaining cilantro. Garnish with a lemon wedge and avocado if you’d like.
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Meet the Cook...
My name is Camine Pappas and I love to create beautiful and delicious food that anyone can make. My signature style centers around a love for combining things in a way you might not expect as I work to find a hidden combination of colors, textures and flavors from the things that are in my pantry and/or easy to obtain.