MANGO + ROASTED TOMATILLO SALSA

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Earlier this week, Southern California got its first heat wave of the season and it was a doozy. Alex and I live on the top (3rd) floor of our apartment building and so by the late afternoon, its typical for our apartment to reach about 90 degrees (!!!). We do have central A/C, which we’re totally grateful for, but I come from the notion that you should save the A/C for the worst conditions… aka I’m cheap. Because of this, I try to never complain about the heat, but it’s pretty much a given that sleeping on these hot nights will be hell, especially because I’m sharing a bed with Alex. You know how back in the old days (I’m talking like, the 16th century) when people would place bed warmers in their bed? Alex is essentially one of those bed warmers, which is something I cherish in the winter times, because then I don’t even have to wear socks or sweats in bed, but not so much in the summer. I love him, but the dude runs hot.

Because of the heat, the last thing I wanted to do this week was turn the oven on and bake a cake or cookies. Furthermore, I noticed how I hadn’t posted a non-sweets recipe since January (my bar nuts) so I knew it was about time to do another appetizer or snack of some sort. And even though Alex turns our bed into a mini sauna, today’s recipe is dedicated to him because he was the inspiration for it.

Any time Alex and I go to a casual Mexican restaurant, without fail, Alex gets the mango salsa from the self-serving salsa bar. Although I love fresh mango and pretty much eat a bag of Trader Joe’s dried mangoes every day, mango salsa has never really been my thing. In my opinion, it's usually too sweet and has none of the spice or other flavors that I crave in my favorite salsas. And I’m convinced that most of them have added sugar to achieve that flavor. So, I decided to turn a mango salsa into something that both Alex and I would enjoy, which was achieved by adding a little heat with serrano peppers and a good amount of roasted tomatillos.

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If you’re unfamiliar with the Mexican fruit, let me tell you a little bit about tomatillos. Although they are part of the nightshade family and look like unripened green tomatoes, tomatillos are actually not tomatoes! They’re smaller, come in a papery husk which is easily removable and have a sticky residue on the exterior. Their bright green color is what gives Mexican salsa verde its signature look and as for taste, it is more acidic than normal tomatoes. Because of this added acidity, I felt like sweet, ripe mangoes would be a perfect match when balanced correctly. After a few trials, I believe that I found the perfect blend of sweetness, spiciness and acid.

In order to get that right balance, it is very important that you only use ripe mangoes. Otherwise, if you add a mango that isn’t ready, the sweetness won’t be there and you won’t even be able to tell that there’s mangoes in the salsa. Tomatillos can be a pretty overpowering flavor, so in order to combat this, ripe mangoes are vital. Don’t even bother making this salsa if your mangoes are unripe!

Although I pledged to not turn the oven on this week, I made the exception to turn the broiler on to roast not only the tomatillos, but the peppers and garlic cloves as well. Roasting these three ingredients allowed the flavors to be more accentuated and added more depth to the salsa. You want to achieve a light char on them, so don’t worry if you think you’ve “burned” the tomatillos or anything. Char equals flavor. Oh! And speaking of the serrano peppers, if you’re afraid of spicy food, I would suggest removing the seeds after you’ve roasted them, and using anywhere from one to two peppers (or less if you’re still hesitant). My ideal salsa is one whole pepper with some of the seeds squeezed out after roasting.

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And just so everyone is aware, Alex told me that this salsa is “the best salsa he’s ever had” and I literally had to take the bowl away from him because he would have eaten all of it. That’s a big deal! And I know he’s not lying because we’ve been together for 5 and 1/2 years and so we’re well past the phase of not being brutally honest with one another (he loves telling me when my hair is too fluffy).

If mango isn’t your thing, check out my other salsa recipe here, which includes a recipe for homemade tortilla chips.

Mango and Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Yields about 3 cups

Ingredients

  • 6 small to medium-sized tomatillos

  • 1 -2 serrano peppers, depending on preferred spice level

  • 3 unpeeled garlic cloves

  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, lightly packed

  • 1/2 cup red onion (about 1/2 an onion), chopped

  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 2 ripe mangoes, chopped

Directions

  1. Move the oven rack to the top position and preheat the broiler.

  2. Remove the husks from the tomatillos and quickly rinse them with water to get rid of the sticky residue. Place the tomatillos, pepper(s) and garlic cloves on a baking sheet and broil them for about 10-12 minutes, turning halfway. You want everything to be slightly charred, so if the garlic or pepper roasts faster, remove them first. Once roasted, peel the garlic cloves and remove the stem from the pepper. If concerned about heat, cut the pepper in half and squeeze out some of the seeds.

  3. In a food processor fitted with the S-blade or in a high-powered blender, add all ingredients except for the mango, and pulse until everything is pureed. A few chunks are okay. Add the mango and pulse 5-7 times. Add more salt if needed. Transfer to your desired bowl and eat immediately with chips.

UNION SQUARE CAFE'S BAR NUTS

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Today I am giving you quite possibly the easiest recipe that you can find on The Vivid Kitchen thus far. We’re taking a break from desserts and baked goods this week in lieu of making something that will work perfectly for your Super Bowl viewing party. I’m talking about bar nuts, and not just any bar nuts but Union Square Cafe’s version of the seriously addicting snack. For those who don’t know, Union Square Cafe is a famous restaurant in NYC and comes from the mastermind restaurateur, Danny Meyer. He later went on to open other highly accoladed spots like Gramercy Tavern and Eleven Madison Park, the latter being a Michelin-starred restaurant. Although Union Square Cafe is a high-end restaurant with a sophisticated menu, their bar nuts are almost as famous as the restaurant itself. A quick google search will show that I am far from the first person to share this recipe, but I’ve found that still, a good amount of people in my circle had never heard of or tried these I introduced them. So, I want to spread the bar nuts love a little further today!

I’ve made these bar nuts at least 15-20 times since I discovered the recipe in my coveted Genius Recipes cookbook from Food52, about 4 years ago. Every time I go to a Cinespia screening at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery where we picnic before viewing a film, it’s a no-brainer among my friends that I will be bringing a batch of the nuts. At my sister’s wedding, I made a HUGE batch of these, enough for 115 people, but with only almonds because we just so happened to find pounds of them in my mom’s freezer. Each table at the wedding had a cheese platter filled with crackers, fruit, and the seasoned almonds (my mom, aunt, and I made each platter mere hours before the ceremony) and it was the perfect appetizer.

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The only problem with these bar nuts is that once you start eating them, you honestly can’t stop. I have no problem stopping myself from eating an entire can of Pringles, and I know I can only eat one single Lay’s potato chip, but with Union Square Cafe’s nuts, there’s no stopping. In fact, I never make them just for Alex and I to have at home because we both will eat nothing else until they’re all gone. And on Thanksgiving, I’m not allowed to make them because putting them out before dinner would ruin everyone’s appetite. Have I given enough proof that these nuts are amazing and that you need to make them?

As for what nuts to use, the choice is yours. You may include pecans, walnuts, Brazil nuts, peanuts, almonds, cashews or hazelnuts. These are all the nuts that are found in Union Square Cafe’s blend. But could you add pistachios or macadamia nuts? Of course you can! You also get to decide how much of each nut you want in your batch: you can have more almonds and less cashews, you can use only pecans, or you can use every single nut I listed above. Just as long as you use 800 grams (1 3/4 lbs. or 28 oz.) worth of nuts, you’re good to go. I find that the easiest way to measure out the nuts is by using a kitchen scale, especially if you’re using an array of nuts.

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It’s important that I note that you need to buy raw and unsalted nuts! We need to toast them ourselves so that the seasoning “paste” we make - consisting of melted butter, brown sugar, chopped fresh rosemary, cayenne pepper, and salt - will adhere to the warm nuts. I made two tiny changes to the seasoning paste which is that I use a bit more butter than what is called for (about 2 tbsp. instead of 1) and I finely chop the fresh rosemary. Over the years, I’ve found that these two modifications make for not only a tastier batch, but allows for the nuts to receive a generous coating of seasoning deliciousness. So that’s why in the recipe below, I have written 1-2 tbsp. of melted butter. I suggest starting with 1 tbsp. and see if it works for you, and if not, remember to add an extra half tablespoon or so the next time you make them! Because there will definitely be a next time.

Make these for your Super Bowl party please! Or any party or get together for that matter. I promise that these nuts will get more compliments than your main dish that took hours to prepare.

P.S. Have leftover fresh rosemary and not sure what to do with it? Make my lemon and rosemary madeleines!

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Union Square Cafe’s Bar Nuts

Makes about 5 cups

Recipe from Union Square Cafe via Genius Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 lb. (800g, 28oz.) raw and unsalted assorted nuts (peanuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts)

  • 1-2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted (see note above)

  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary

  • 2 tsp. dark brown sugar, packed

  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

  • 2 tsp. kosher salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Evenly spread the nuts on a large baking sheet (if all nuts do not fit on one sheet, divide between two and toast at the same time). Toast the nuts for 10 minutes, or until lightly golden brown and fragrant.

  2. Meanwhile, prepare the seasoning. In a large bowl (large enough to fit the nuts), combine the melted butter, fresh rosemary, brown sugar, cayenne pepper and salt. When the nuts are finished, immediately transfer to the bowl with the seasoning and thoroughly mix to coat. Add more salt or cayenne if needed. Enjoy warm, but I think they’re best at room temperature when the coating has settled.

SALTED ALMOND BUTTER W/ CHIA AND FLAX SEEDS

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My household goes through jars of nut butter like it’s nobody’s business. Every single day, and I mean every single day, Alex and I both have either almond and/or peanut butter in some capacity. For me, I put almond butter in my post workout smoothie and I also put a good slathering of peanut butter on my toast for breakfast. As for Alex, he eats a scoop full of peanut butter with a drizzle of honey before he heads to the gym first thing in the morning.

Although the almond butter we buy is just a simple creamy, unsalted variety, our go-to peanut butter on the other hand is more amped up with a crunchy texture, slight salty taste, and added nutrition from chia and flax seeds. We buy this amazing peanut butter from our forever favorite grocery store, Trader Joe’s, of course. One thing that I always wondered is why Trader Joe’s never decided to make an almond butter version, so I set out to make my own. And I gotta say, I’m so happy that I did because Alex and I both prefer my homemade almond butter version to any store-bought nut butter we’ve tried (peanut or almond). Surprise surprise.

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Making your own nut butter is fairly easy just as long as you have a high-powered blender, like a Vitamix, or a food processor. I own a Cuisinart food processor, so I’ll be giving directions on how to make the butter using a food processor, but the directions are identical if you plan to use a Vitamix instead. Once the almonds have completely transformed into a creamy mixture, that is when you will add in the salt and seeds. If you want to flavor it up a bit, go ahead and add whatever you’d like - cinnamon, vanilla extract, honey, maple syrup, etc..

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After some research, I found that making almond butter is easier/quicker if you buy raw almonds and toast them yourself - the heat will allow for the almonds to break up more easily. Also, if you want to have a crunchier almond butter, set aside about a 1/4 cup of almonds after toasting them and give them a chop. When the almond butter is complete, hand stir the almonds in and you’ll have a very nicely textured butter.

If you’ve never made a nut butter on your own, I highly recommend it! It’s a pretty fun process and undoubtedly gives you a much better flavor then what you’d get from the store.

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Salted Almond Butter w/ Chia and Flax Seeds

Ingredients

  • 16 oz. (about 3 cups) raw almonds

  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt

  • 2 tbsp. chia seeds

  • 2 tbsp. ground/milled flax seeds

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Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the almonds evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and toast them in the oven for about 10 minutes, giving them a stir halfway through.

  2. Allow the almonds to cool slightly before transferring them to the food processor, about 10-15 minutes. If making a crunchy almond butter, set aside 1/4 cup of almonds and give them a good chop.

  3. Place the almonds in the food processor fitted with the s-blade and blend on “high". The almonds will go through various stages of consistency - they will be powdery, then begin to form clumps, and then will eventually form one massive clump. Throughout this process, you will have to keep on eye on the food processor and break up the mixture with a spoon or the back of a spatula. If may seem like it’ll never become creamy, but trust me, it will! The whole process can take about 10-15 minutes depending on your machine, so you’ll just need to be patient.

  4. Once the mixture is creamy, add in the salt, chia, and flax seeds and pulse until incorporated - this is when you can add in any other ingredients of your choosing. Stir in the reserved 1/4 cup chopped almonds with a spatula (if you’re making a crunchier almond butter). Allow it to cool to room temperature.

  5. Transfer the almond butter to a mason jar and store in the fridge. Enjoy on toast, apple slices, in smoothies, or on its own.