NINFA’S CARROTS AND CAULIFLOWER

Ever since I attended the Herb Symposium last month, I’ve been on the lookout for herbs to add to my collection.  The other day I found this Mexican Oregano, with its pretty orchid-colored blossoms:

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I’ve always had a pot of oregano among my herbs, but it was either Greek or Mediterranean.  This was the first time I had seen, or at least noticed, Mexican oregano.  Unlike the grayish-green rounded leaves of the other varieties, this one had bright green, pointed leaves:

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I can’t wait to use it in a recipe, and those flowers are going to make a pretty garnish.

Oregano is used frequently in Mexican recipes, and one that we really love is Ninfa’s Carrot Relish.  These pickled carrots were always on the table at Ninfa’s, along with legendary red and green salsas.  The recipe appeared in the Houston Chronicle years ago,and I’ve made it many times since.  One time, my Dad threw some leftover cauliflower into the warm brine, and it was so good, that he declared, “I don’t know why you would ever make it any other way.”  Gotta agree with you, Dad — it is even better with the cauliflower!

NINFA’S CARROT RELISH WITH CAULIFLOWER
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Recipe type: Vegetables
Author:
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 12 chiles de arbol
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled, diagonally sliced ⅛” thick
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced onion
  • 3 ounces canned pickled jalapenos
Instructions
  1. Place water, oil, and vinegar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Add chiles, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add oregano, cumin, pepper, salt, and sugar and simmer 5 minutes longer. Add carrots, onion, cauliflower, and jalapenos, and simmer approximately 10 minutes, or until carrots have reached desired consistency (they should be relatively firm). Transfer to jar, allow to cool, then refrigerate.

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Chiles de arbol add just the right kick

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Why would you ever make it without cauliflower?

SPINACH WITH SESAME SOY DRESSING

 

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I found this Japanese bronze bonsai planter on ebay.  It has a crisp pattern and interesting   animal handles:

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It is signed, although I have no idea by whom.

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Bonsai is defined as “a tree or shrub that has been dwarfed, as by pruning the roots and pinching, and is grown in a pot or other container and trained to produce a desired shape or effect.”  Or, as defined on Urban Dictionary:  ”A small shrub that resembles a tree.  So small yet so full of treeness.”

I’ve never grown a bonsai in my bonsai planter, because I don’t have enough light for one in my house, but every winter I use it to force narcissus, also known as paperwhites.  First I fill the planter with gravel (which I purchase at the pet store in the fish tank aisle):

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Then I nestle 8 bulbs on top of the gravel.  I add water to just below the surface of the gravel:

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Within a few days, roots appear on the bulbs:

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And leaves shoot up:

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About a week later, buds start to appear:

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And a few days later I am treated to fragrant, delicate white flowers:

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I look forward to forcing the bulbs every year, and wonder what else I could force using my bonsai planter.  Maybe I could use it to force my kids to do the laundry.

One thing I don’t have to force my kids to do is eat Spinach with Sesame Soy Dressing.  We first tried something similar to this on our one and only trip to Disneyworld.  We went during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, or as Disney calls it, “the most magical time of the year (“magical” being a euphemism for expensive or crowded, or maybe both).  I DO NOT recommend going to Disneyworld at that time of year.  The Magic Kingdom was so crowded that they closed the gates periodically throughout the day.  It was a challenge just to find a place to eat.  (Take my advice and DO NOT eat at the Tomorrowland Noodle House.)  One day at Epcot we did not manage to sit down for breakfast until 3 p.m., and my caffeine headache was so bad that all I wanted to do was bang my head against a wall.   In desperation, we wound up having dinner at Todd English’s Blue Zoo, in the Swan and Dolphin Hotel.  It is off the beaten path, took about 30 minutes to shuttle there from our hotel, and was so great that we ate there twice.  A tasty little mound of sesame spinach accompanied some of the entrees, which the kids quickly scarfed down.

Inspired by the bonsai planter, I finally got around to trying this recipe for Spinach with Sesame Soy Dressing.  The recipe from which this is adapted was originally published in Gourmet magazine in 1963, but was republished in 2006.  According to my family, it has definitely withstood the test of time.

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Ingredients
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 4 teaspoons sesame seeds, divided use
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons rice vinegar (not seasoned)
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce (shoyu, if you can find it)
  • ¼ teaspoon sesame oil
  • Pinch of salt
Instructions
  1. Rinse spinach and drain lightly. With water still clinging to leaves, cook in 2 batches in a large pot over moderately high heat, covered, turning occasionally with tongs, until wilted and bright green, 2 to 3 minutes per batch. Transfer cooked spinach to a colander, then rinse under cold water until cool and drain well. Squeeze small handfuls of spinach to remove as much moisture as possible, then in 2 batches wrap spinach in several layers of paper towels and squeeze to remove more moisture. Coarsely chop spinach. Divide spinach among 4 small custard cups or timbales.
  2. Finely grind 2 teaspoons sesame seeds in a blender, then add peanut oil, vinegar, mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt and blend until combined well.
  3. To serve, unmound spinach onto plate. Spoon 1 teaspoon dressing over each spinach mound, stirring dressing occasionally. Sprinkle mounds with remaining 2 teaspoons sesame seeds. Serve at room temperature.

 Chop chop, dinner will be ready soon

 So small yet so full of spinachness