I wussed out on my own event last week, because I wasn’t sufficiently Abilified. I’m now partway through the introductory phase of Abilification and that, coupled with tranqs – I’m not an addict but goddamn, Valium is some good shit – means feeling good enough to take on these black bean and vidalia quesadillas with green SALSA DE LA MUERTE.
Thank god I like milk. Do you think this salsa is a joke? Because IT IS NOT and it will cut you. No, really. It’s like a laser, it’ll slice right through your palate like a plastic knife through cream cheese that you accidentally left on the counter for six hours.
It burns worse than a Health Care Town Hall Meetings (I assume a lot of acid is thrown at these? I haven’t seen any, but that’s what it sounds like.), but it also is remarkably fresh and flavorful. One might say that it “Hurts So Good,” if one were inclined to say such things, which I am NOT.
I’d made a roasted tomatillo-jalapeño salsa last September that did it’s damnedest to do me in; it verged on impossible to eat and required lots of chugging milk directly from the carton with no shame, only sweet relief. I learned afterward that roasting chiles with seeds and ribs intact is not simple roasting, it is an alchemical act that turns the ordinarily sweet flesh of the chile into gold ingots a deadly firebomb. I’d planned on using that same theory for this month’s First Tuesday, in which July’s Smugness Prize winner (I don’t remember who, am I supposed to know every little detail? I have a life, you know.) commanded us to make the hottest food we could stand.
This time, I omitted the tomatillos so there would be nothing to mitigate the burn. I figured I could take it; I mean, I didn’t actually die of anything last time.
I also had fresh chiles from the backyard this time around, which couldn’t hurt. I took a handful of jalapeños and the single anaheim chile my anaheim plant managed, after fighting the good fight, to produce and threw them into a cast iron skillet. I’d have roasted them and made the quesadillas on the grill, but it’s so humid here that wading through the air to get to the grill takes too much energy.
I’d been planning on just throwing some black beans into the quesadillas until I remembered the vidalia onions in the fridge. I took one, cut it into fat rings and threw those into the pan as well. After another few minutes, I separated a head of the hardneck garlic I just got at the farmer’s market and put the cloves in as well. I spent the next five minutes looking around the kitchen for more things to put in the pan. Luckily, no further inspiration hit me and I didn’t throw in any rice pudding or a lemon or a piece of chalk.
The onion seared and the chile skins sizzled and popped while Brian and I discussed the cost of front-row tickets to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert at Madison Square Garden (Springsteen with E Street, Simon AND Garfunkel, Simon alone, Crosby Stills and Nash and Stevie Fucking Wonder) ($6000+) and held a point/counterpoint along the lines of “This Concert is Fricking BANANAS” vs. “Yes, I’d Like to Go But I’d Also Really Like to Hang on to Both Kidneys, So Keep Your Damn Rabbis Away From Me.”
FYI, we both ended up coming down on the side of keeping kidneys.
I took the browned onions out after three or four minutes a side and left the chiles in until the skins were blistered. I left them, covered, to cool while I peeled the garlic and then crushed the shit out of everything in the molcajete, keeping about half the chile seeds. Do you have one of these? You should get one and pound the shit out of something in it. Highly therapeutic, and good for the forearms.
I mixed the chile-garlic paste with a little olive oil, some lime juice and a big handful of cilantro and let it sit during quesadilla construction.
Vegetarians, I know this was a veg-friendly recipe up to now but you’ll want to skip this part (if you’re not already skipping the whole blog):
In the same cast iron skillet but over lower heat I added a little bacon fat. The New Best Recipe says butter, but as much I trust them I just can’t believe that a quesadilla can’t be improved by bacon fat. Which is easily explainable, really, because it’s fat that comes from BACON. The defense rests.
I laid a ginormo flour tortilla in the pan and added cheese – onion – black beans – cheese before topping with another tortilla. If I’d spent as much time thinking about the construction as I did about the whole kidney thing I probably would have just folded the giant tortilla, but I didn’t, requiring me to flip the quesadilla with a giant cake layer-separator. Whatever, cheese melts either way.
Having learned my lesson last time, I dug some sour cream out of the back of the fridge to mitigate the SALSA DE LA MUERTA and went easier on the salsa.
The tomatillo salsa was a Rick Bayless recipe from a Smackdown; I don’t want to compare myself to Bayless (who, judging from the old photos they showed of him on Top Chef Masters two weeks ago, was and possibly still is a giant pothead, which only makes me like him more), but this salsa was excellent. It was hot, yes – Brian ate a forkful plain and did, in fact, have to run for the milk carton with tears in his eyes – but with the quesadillas and a good dollop of sour cream, was incredibly flavorful. The mix of chiles gave it sweetness along with the the heat, while cilantro freshens everything it touches.
Unless you’re one of those freak anti-cilantro people who thinks it tastes like soap, in which case it destroys everything it touches and also I’m not sure if we’re friends any more.
Damage: Olive oil, garlic, onions, salt, bacon fat: staples. Chiles: free. (You want to quibble? Grow your own damn chiles. You can do it in a pot, don’t talk back.) Tortillas: $1. Cheese: $2.32. Black beans: $0.42. Lime: $0.78. Total: $4.53, or $2.27 per person.
Roasted Green Chile SALSA DE LA MUERTA
Makes about half a cup, but it doesn’t take much
2 anaheim chiles
8-10 jalapeños (depending on size)
6 large cloves of garlic, skin on
1/2 c. cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tsp. olive oil
Roast all the chiles until the skins are blistered and blackened. You can do this in a variety of ways: on a grill, under the broiler, directly over a gas range (if the peppers are big enough) or in a smoking-hot cast-iron skillet (what I did). Toss the garlic cloves in as well, and keep ‘em moving around so they don’t scorch, because yuck. Take the garlic out when it starts to color; let sit out to cool for a few minutes, peel, and dice roughly.
When the chiles are blackened all over, remove them to a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap; this will steam them a little and ease peeling. After 5 minutes, remove them and peel the larger chiles; I don’t bother with the wee ones. Seed about half the chiles – more if you want more heat, less if you’re weak.
If you have a molcajete or mortar and pestle, haul it out now. Add the garlic and chiles, sprinkle them with a few pinches of salt and pound away until you have a rough puree. You could also do this in a little food processor, or just mince everything together with a good knife.
Scrape the puree into a bowl. Add the cilantro, lime juice and olive oil and combine well. Serve immediately, or refridgerate for a day. Let come to room temp before eating so you don’t blunt the flavor with cold.