It’s not that I don’t like spicy foods, it’s just my heat threshold is low. Very low. Kind of like an infant, or maybe a puppy. Brian, on the other hand, has been known to eat actual fire for shits and giggles; his favorite hot sauce is called “Sweet Death” and every bottle comes with a skull keychain. (Clearly, I’m not in their marketing demographic.)
So when I scooped a 16th of a pinch of this simple roasted tomatillo and jalapeño salsa onto a tortilla chip and immediately started to tear just from being in close proximity to the peppers, it wasn’t totally strange. But when Brian started to cough, I knew something was up. And then he did the unthinkable (well, unthinkable for him; I do this all the time): he lunged for the milk and DRANK STRAIGHT FROM THE CARTON.
My god, what have I done.
Can I also just say: along with the dizziness and some truly weird ass dreams*, one of the other side effects of going off paxil – an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety med – is WORSE ANXIETY ATTACKS. Lord knows I am all for helpful pharmacology, but paxil is starting to seem more and more like a cosmic joke.
*Seriously, have you ever had a dream about your dog falling out of a tree? That’s NOT normal.
It all started so innocently.
The point of this dinner was not to pierce a hole through my esophagus; that was a “feature,” not unlike Windows Vista’s layers of irritating helpful security prompts. All I was really trying to do was use up a surplus of CSA vegetables that have been crowding my refrigerator and countertops. The tomatillos and tomatoes in particular had reached critical mass and have been emitting lethal beams of guilt for the past few days. No dinner is cheaper than one whose ingredients are all already in your house, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone: blackened grilled chicken, fresh corn and tomato salad with buttermilk-lime dressing and the aforementioned tomatillo salsa (cribbed from Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen).
I put Brian in charge of grilling, since he enjoys it and I am afraid/not to be trusted around fire. He threw a quick blackening mix of salt, sugar, paprika, cayenne and garlic on the chicken and tossed the tomatillos and jalapeños on whole to roast. The corn went on as well, wrapped in foil.
I just scratched my head, and the post-hand-washing pepper residue is burning my scalp THROUGH MY HAIR. This is unholy.
Rather than haul out the fo-pro to blend the salsa I lugged out the molcajete, the official mortar and pestle of Mexico. It’s made of a really rough volcanic rock and is great for making guacamole and textured salsas or for getting your cocaine really fine. I smushed the tomatillos, picked out the bigger pieces of skin, and then ground the jalapeños (sans ribs and seeds) into a paste with some chopped garlic.
You know, either my computer or the WordPress text editor has a not-so-secret anti-Mexican bias; it refuses to recognize the words “tomatillo” or “molcajete.” If I was using a PC it would seem par for the course, but I’m a little disappointed in Mac. I expect a little more multiculturalism.
You know it’s going to be bad when you can smell the heat.
The jalapeño got dumped into the tomatillo mash along with some diced red onion, fresh cilantro and salt. And then I stirred it together and the bowl burst into flames and when I woke up it was 2 weeks later and I had no eyebrows.
I’m telling you, I followed the directions in the damn book. If Mexicans are actually capable of eating this salsa on a regular basis without dying a little every time, they are a more powerful nation than any of us suspect and we should start paying the maquiladores more and stop sending our drunk college students to wreak havoc on their beach towns every spring. Because any people who are untamed by this salsa are a MIGHTY PEOPLE, a people who should not be crossed.
Salad dressing, or birth of a new sentient bug civilization?*
Much less incendiary, thank god, was the corn and tomato salad. To make absolutely sure that it would counteract the roasted napalm salsa, I threw together a simple, cooling dressing of buttermilk, fresh lime juice, salt, freshly cracked black pepper and cumin seeds. Pour, squeeze, whisk, done.
I left the cumin seeds whole because I like the crunch, and also because I am lazy and didn’t want to find the coffee grinder, clean it out, grind the cumin, clean the grinder out again, clean the grinder out a third time to Brian’s cleanliness specifications and then do it all over when I decide I need just a touch more cumin.
Actually, I find it charming, his love of kitchen cleanliness. Really.**
*Or even more terrifying: Both?
**Just to be clear – I’m messy, but it’s not like I’m cleaning the countertops with raw pork chops or anything.
Not currently on fire.
Brian had brought the nicely charred corn in and scraped all the kernels off the cobs. As he picked the cobs up to walk to the garbage can and chuck ‘em: (Panicky Voice) “Get out of my way, I’ve got hot cobs!” And I found that way too amusing, because I bask in the pain of my loved ones. The corn got tossed with black beans, more red onion, fresh tomato, cilantro and the buttermilk dressing.
I check the flavors, and it was fresh and flavorful but sweet and mild, as I’d hoped. Or as Brian so delicately put it, “I’m going to scoop more of that corn into my maw and it’s going to be great until I shit it out later.” Because he may be a straight male, but he is sensitive and enlightened.*
*Okay, I know he’s getting picked on a lot here. Let it be known that he is an exceptional human being, and the love of my life. However, like all human beings, exceptional or not, he says some stupid grody shit.
Touched by fire, but not actually on fire.
Thanks to the blackening spice and Brian’s mad grill skillz, the chicken was perfectly cooked and a gorgeous mahogany color. I sliced it up and tried to plate everything so it didn’t look like random piles of crap on a plate, as salsas and salads are wont to do. I think I was about 62% successful.
You don’t realize how terrifying it really is. It’s like a toddler with a fork: they could use it to try and aim the macaroni toward the vicinity of their mouthholes, or they could stab you right through the fucking quadriceps just for the fun of it.*
Still, dinner was good, really good, as long as one was VERY VERY CAREFUL. First off, the amount of cheese (a supermarket cotija) shown in the picture is not nearly enough to counteract the insanity salsa; I was just embarrassed to show you the actual amount of cheese used. Second, one does not scoop the tomatillo salad onto one’s fork, which runs the risk of disfiguring the fork; one merely holds a piece of chicken near the salsa until the desired amount of heat has emanated forth.
Okay, it wasn’t that extreme, although it was close. The tomatillo and jalapeño were mind-bogglingly spicy, but not to the point where there was no flavor other than searing pain; some of the freshness of the tomatillo and fruity character of the jalapeño still shone through, lord knows how. The salty cheese cut through the heat even more, and the sweet corn and tomatoes were a welcome break between spicier bites. I still had to eat dinner with a glass of milk – again, not unlike an infant – but the actual flavors were good.
Of course – how shall I put this delicately – I’ve visited the little girls’ room some number of times between 1 and 10 since I finished eating, oh, about two and a half hours ago, so the ultimate cost-benefit of this meal remains to be seen.
*Because toddlers are unpredictable. I’m sure yours are much better behaved.
Fresh Corn Salad with Buttermilk-Lime Dressing
2 ears fresh sweet corn
4 oz. black beans (canned, or dried and prepped as you like; your choice)
2 small or 1 medium tomato of your choice, cored and diced
1/2 small red onion, cut into rings
1/4 c. cilantro, chopped
1/3 c. buttermilk
juice of 1 lime
1/4 tsp. fresh black pepper
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted
salt to taste
For the dressing: Combine buttermilk, lime juice, pepper, cumin seeds and a pinch of salt. Whisk to combine. Set Aside.
For the veggies: Shuck the corn and wrap the ears in tinfoil. Cook the corn and onion slices over a hot grill until the corn is cooked through and the onion is browned. Remove the corn from the tinfoil and put the ears back on the grill for 1-2 minutes until they take on grill marks.
When the corn is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cob. Chop the grilled onion. Toss the corn and onion with the beans, tomato and cilantro.
Pour the dressing over the veggies and toss to combine. Check for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately.