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Husk Cherry Salsa

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So, what exactly are husk cherries? That’s what I wanted to know when I spotted them at the Union Square farmers’ Market in Manhattan. At first I thought they were gooseberries because they looked exactly like gooseberries—they were golden globes covered in a paper-thin, skin-like husk.

But the sign said “husk cherries.” Naturally, I bought some.img_6445

Native to the New World, husk cherries are not cherries at all. Sometimes also called husk tomatoes, Cape gooseberries, and ground cherries, they’re a type of flowering plant belonging to the nightshade family.

Their flavor is quite unique. It’s like a cross between a tomato, a papaya, and a pineapple. Sweet and savory at the same time. The easiest and no-brainer way to use them is in a salsa, which is exactly how Native Americans peoples used them, as well as eating them out of hand.

I think if food-loving people were smart, they’d introduce themselves to husk cherries and make them better known to the world. They’re really a great little fruit/vegetable. If you ever see them, buy a small bagful and give this recipe a try.

Enjoy!

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Husk Cherry Salsa

Makes approximately 1½ cups.

1 cup husk cherries
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced chile of your choice
¼ minced cilantro
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
¼ teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Remove the husks from the cherries by peeling the husks back and twisting them off. Rinse the cherries in cool water and set on paper towels to drain. Cut the cherries in half and place them in a bowl.img_6451Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve with tortilla chips or pita bread, or use as a relish for fish, chicken, pork, or vegetables.img_6455

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Papalo, the Unsung Cilantro

I just love finding new items to try. I was at the farmer’s market one day and saw something called papalo. I’d never heard of it and had no idea how to use it, but I bought a bundle and did some research.

Papalo leaf

Papalo leaf

Turns out that papalo is an herb that grows wild in Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. Most popular in Mexican cooking (although it’s also used in South American cuisines), it’s been compared closely to cilantro. It looks nothing like cilantro but its flavor is mildly cilantro-like with citrus overtones. In fact, it is often used in dishes in place of cilantro. It tends to be used in raw applications more than cooked ones, and is especially popular in salsas and guacamole.

There’s a traditional Puebla sandwich made with meat, avocado, and chiles, varying with tomatoes, cheese, and onions, and always papalo. As far as I’ve been able to determine, this sandwich is called a cemita, which is also a general word (in Spanish) for “sandwich.”

The word papalo comes from the Native American Nahuatl word for butterfly, papalotl. (Interestingly, it’s similar to the French word for butterfly, papillon.) But I’ve come across numerous names for papalo, including Bolivian coriander (coriander being the word for cilantro in many countries), butterfly weed, pápaloquelite, tepegua, quillquiña, quirquiña, and killi.Papalo

Despite the prevailing belief that papalo should not be cooked, I used it in a batch of vegetarian chili and, predictably, it gave it a citrusy note. The chili seemed somehow “fresher” and more summery. That’s obviously my own association with the flavor profile of the chili but the papalo definitely gave it a nice little zing.

Here’s a recipe for a simple tomatillo salsa, using papalo. Let me know what you think.

Simple Tomatillo Salsa with Papalo

½ lb. tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1 small jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and finely minced
¼ cup minced papalo leaves
¼ cup finely minced white onion
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
Sea salt to taste

Finely chop the tomatillos and place in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Chill for at least ½ hour to allow the flavors to blend.

 


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Cranberry Sauce with a Sorghum Twist

cranberry enhancedWell, here we are again, preparing for that iconic American holiday, the Most Important Meal of the Year: Thanksgiving.

Every year, I make fresh cranberry sauce. Some people prefer the canned variety to freshly made, but when I see that gelled log with can rings around it, I can’t help but feel that I can do better. In fact, anyone can. Fresh cranberry sauce is extremely simple, and the end product is so much better than the canned log. (Although, I know some of you feel like it’s truly not a traditional Thanksgiving without that log with the rings around it, so I say, whatever floats your boat.)

Cranberries are a tart fruit and cranberry sauce requires plenty of sugar to make it palatable enough for most people. But I always cringe a little when I start dumping the amount of sugar that most recipes call for into my pot of cranberries. So, this year, I decided to try some of the sorghum molasses that I brought up from a trip to the South.

The recipe I’ve always used calls for 2 cups granulated sugar. That’s a lot of sugar. So, I started with 1 cup brown sugar. Brown sugar is a nicer product to use than granulated sugar because it lend the sauce a delicate molasses flavor and it thickens it up better. My sauce was still a little too tart, but I really didn’t want to add any more sugar, so I reached for the sorghum molasses. I started with 2 tablespoons and I liked the results. However, I knew that most people would want it sweeter (I don’t have a big sweet tooth), so I added 2 more tablespoons. It worked wonderfully.

Sorghum molasses is a Southern staple, but it can be found in specialty stores elsewhere in the U.S. If you can’t find it, substitute brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup, or honey (the honey will be sweeter than the others).

If you’re looking for that cloying candy-sweet taste of canned cranberry sauce, this isn’t it. But if you want something that is a little more complex, texturally pleasing, and not as loaded with refined sugar, give this a try.

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Cranberry Sauce with a Sorghum Twist

Makes 3 cups

1 16-oz. package fresh cranberries
1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
¼ cup sorghum molasses
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon nutmeg or ground cloves
1 whole star anise
Tiny pinch sea salt

Combine all ingredients with 1 ½ cups water in a 2-quart pot. Bring to a boil; lower the heat to low and simmer until cranberries start to pop. Continue simmering and stirring for about 5 minutes, smashing the cranberries along the sides of the pot (you can leave some whole). Taste and adjust sweetener level to your taste.

Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer to a jar or bowl and refrigerate until needed. Remove the cinnamon stick and star anise before serving or use them for garnish.

Variation: Add a tablespoon of raspberry or cherry liqueur or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract.


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Minty Peach Salsa

Summer is almost over. Technically, we have until September 22, but the kids are back in school, the stores are already displaying holiday merchandise, and my neighbor’s trees have red leaves in them. As much as I love autumn, I’m always sad when the summer comes to a close. It’s never long enough, is it?

Minty Peach Salsa

Minty Peach Salsa

But there’s still time to enjoy some summer activity and summer deliciousness, including the wonderful stone fruit that are still available. And if you grow your own mint, it’s probably out of control by now. Here’s a way to use both: Minty Peach Salsa.

This salsa was inspired by a peach salsa I bought at a farmer’s market in Virginia. I set out to replicate it and made a few modifications to make it a little less sweet and a bit spicier. It’s very simple and perfect for those last summer picnics or barbecues. It also makes a great condiment for grilled veggies, chicken, or fish.

You can substitute the peach with nectarines, plums, or apricots, but I find that peach works the best. It has the right flavor and texture to complement the other ingredients.

Enjoy the salsa and what’s left of summer!

Minty Peach Salsa

Makes about 2 ½ cups.

2 cups chopped peaches
1/3 cup chopped shallot or finely chopped Vidalia onion
¾ cup chopped red pepper
1 small jalapeno, minced
2 tablespoon minced mint
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoon spiced rum (optional)

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Refrigerate for an hour before serving to allow the flavors to blend.

2. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary, before serving. Serve with tortilla or pita chips.