The dinner under the spotlights today was very much born out of two seemingly opposite motivations. As it often happens here at the Manhattan food project, after spending a weekend or two with our families, Elizabeth and I return to the city itching to cook for ourselves again but craving lighter fare after holiday feasts, birthday dinners or similar gorging rituals. This night certainly fell right into that category, and so mired firmly between these two sticking points, I thought for sure my paralysis would only be broken with a trip to the take-out menu drawer.
Enter the antojito cookbook… again. My redoubtable wife, not to be discouraged, found several recipes that not only sounded wonderful, but took full advantage of what was available and what would hit the spot on that particular chilly day. With tomato season feeling about 10,000 years away, we opted for a salsa made out of blended tomatillos and avocado, a surprisingly clean and refreshing mixture, although next time I won’t blend it until so smooth. I also should be more careful in removing the seedy inside of the tomatillos. Tomatillos are really growing on me- while quite tart, they have a good texture and are a little more reliable than tomatoes most times of the year.
For the main event, we chose two dishes that both benefited from dried chillies. We stocked up that day (along with the other produce) at the Manhattan Fruit Exchange, a delightful and affordable Chelsea Market store that Elizabeth will extol the delights in detail another day. Wild American jumbo shrimp are popping up all over in local fish counters, and so we availed ourselves of those as well for the first dish, which was little more than some cooked, soaked chiles sautéed with the shrimp, simple and delicious. The main dish was, in a way, even simpler. Fans of Mexican food know to respect the dark and complex concoction known as mole sauce, as I learned on Top Chef this season, the construction which is slightly less complicated than the avionics package of your standard Airbus 380. This recipe is like a baby version, ideal for first-timers, and what you get is a rich, spicy, unctuous sauce that tastes like a hybrid of chili and mole. I’m sure that there’s a word for the slight pleasing bitterness you get, like in high cocoa chocolate, but it escapes me. A few humble meatballs from some three-meat meatloaf I had stashed in the freezer left to simmer therein, some tortillas and a splash of the green stuff from above, and you’ve got an antojito that will move you to tears. So when you’ve reached you limit of rich food, don’t abandon your dinner. Salvation is just a tiny plate away. Until next time, friends, cook on!