A Niçoise Change to Niçoise Salad

By Michael Elmore

A niçois salad can be controversial. Traditionalists swear it must only include raw vegetables. Modernists appreciate changes that were recommended in the late 19th century that added eggs and potatoes (cooked, of course). It is the one salad that nobody can seem to agree on.

This twist certainly is not traditional in some ways. It welcomes the history of the origins of a niçois, however, developed by peasants who could not afford much and focused on fresh regional vegetables available to them and the tuna and anchovies available in the nearby seaports. This takes that same approach.

Moving to Austin and having access to abundant and fresh southwest flavors, we’ve incorporated the regional aspect of the origins of the salad. Here, instead of vinegar and olive oil, we replace it with a salsa verde with tangy tomatillios, spicy jalapenos, and zesty limes.

Ingredients for tomatillo sauce:

  • 1.5 pounds tomatillos, paper and stems removed
  • 1 jalapeno, stem removed
  • 1 red onion, peeled and stems removed, chopped
  • 1 avocado, pit and skins removed
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Zest and juice of two limes

Directions:

  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. If you wish for a less spicy salsa verde, seed the jalapeno prior to blending.
  2. Put in a container and put in fridge for at least an hour so flavors meld.

Ingredients for guacamole:

  • 1 avocado, pit and skin removed
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • Juice of one lime
  • ¼ tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Prior to plating, mash all ingredients using a mortar and pestle or the back of a fork.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of tuna, drained
  • Zest and juice of one lime
  • ¼ tsp of salt

Directions:

  1. Mix all ingredients together.

Plating directions:

  1. Take one radish and slice thinly. Using a ring mold, first put the guacamole for the first layer in the middle of a plate. Next, pack the tuna mixture tightly. Arrange the radish in a layer. Place in fridge for approximately 5 minutes.
  2. Remove plate from fridge and add a teaspoon on top of the layers, removing the ring mold carefully. Spoon salsa verde in a circle around the plate and serve immediately.

Under Thai Sea: Thai Chili Scallops

By Michael Elmore

My fiance, Catie, loves scallops. If given the choice between some tender seared scallops and a rib eye, I think she would be hard pressed to choose. As a lawyer, she works pretty long days, and so I surprised her with dinner by combining her favorite flavors: tender, lush scallops with Thai flavors.

We had these as an appetizer with a steak dinner entree (hey, just cause I said she would choose one over the other, doesn’t mean I made her choose!), but the scallops were the real star. A balanced, controlled heat from the peppers, a lushness on the tongue from the butter, and a tangy acidity form the lime juice that brings all the flavors together made every bight scrumptious. So grab some seafood and enjoy this epic journey under the sea!

Ingredients:

  • 15 scallops
  • 1 Thai chili, minced (to lower heat, seed the chili; you can also use a jalapeno to drastically drop the heat level without sacrificing flavor).
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp fish sauce
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1.5 teaspoon ginger, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom, ground
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Fresh mint, chopped

Directions:

  1. Put 2 tbsp vegetable oil into a large pan (just enough to coat) over medium high heat. While heating, pat the scallops as dry as possible with a paper towel on each side (this will help give a better sear). Cook the scallops approximately 3 minutes per side, making sure to flip only once, until cooked through and opaque. Remove from pan onto a paper towel to dry any excess oil and sprinkle with salt.
  2. To the same pan, add the chili pepper and ginger, stirring frequently until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds.
  3. Add the fish sauce and soy sauce, and, using a wooden spoon, scrap the pan of any browned bits on the pan.
  4. Add the butter, cardamon, lime zest and juice along with a pinch of salt. Whisk and cook for a couple more minutes, making sure not to boil the butter (lower heat if required).
  5. Plate scallops then spoon on some of the sauce on top. Garnish with fresh, chopped mint if desired.

Falling into Autumn: Butternut Squash Stew

By Michael Araj

Despite the hot heat, fall has arrived with its abundance of autumn squashes and warm flavors, not to mention the colors. This warming stew keeps quite a while and increases in flavor the longer it melds. While it’s not a quick meal to cook during the week, it’s a great Sunday prep meal, freezes well, and can be eaten throughout the week.

As always, the first step is to get all your ingredients in place, or mise en place. This helps prevent me from looking like a chicken with its head cut off in the middle of my cooking since everything is ready to use.

Now it’s time to start cooking! Let’s heat up some oil and start cooking down the jalepenos, garlic and peppers!

Now time for the squash – the ultimate feel of fall. When you add the spices, after a few minutes, your kitchen should smell like a combination of all the flavors.

Time for the tomatoes and to cook down the squash since it will take less time than the beans to cook.

After the squash is mostly cooked, we add the beans, finish cooking the squash and then reduce the liquid.

Now we can enjoy our finished stew and celebrate the colors outside with those inside our bowls!

BUTTERNUT SQUASH STEW

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp jalapenos, minced
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 4 bell peppers, diced into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, heat two tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add jalapenos. Cook until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds. Add garlic. Cook until fragrant, approximately another 30 seconds.
  2. Add bell peppers and stir well – this will prevent the garlic and jalapenos from burning. Cook approximately 4-5 minutes until peppers are softened slightly.
  3. Add the squash and stir gently to incorporate. Add the spices and stir again. Cook for approximately 10-15 minutes on medium heat to bloom the spices.
  4. Add the tomatoes and stir gently to incorporate well – there should be a fair amount of liquid from the can which should also be incorporated. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook covered for approximately 25 minutes.
  5. Check on the squash – it should be softened but still not fully cooked with some resistance. Once at this point, add the beans. Cook another 15-20 minutes, covered.
  6. Check the stew and taste. Adjust seasonings as needed and desired. Cook another 10-15 minutes, uncovered, so that the stew thickens.
  7. Serve immediately or let cool then store – the flavors will meld the longer they are together. Serve heated, garnished with chopped cilantro and a lime wedge if desired. In the alternative, top with chopped parsley and finishing salt.