La grande illusion, c’est la guerre. La grande désillusion, c’est la paix.
(The great illusion is war. The great disillusion is peace.)

~Marcel Achard

Some red zest for that Memorial weekend grill.

Pimentón is made from ground, dried red chile peppers (capsicum annuum) similar to that used to make cousin paprika—but it is smoked before grinding. So essential is this brick red paprika to Spanish cuisine that they carry the coveted Denominación de Origen (D.O.). One of these pepper varieties is located in Murcia, a province on the southeastern coast, while another is found in La Vera, which is located southwest of Madrid.

Both of these praised peppers came from the New World during Christopher Columbus’ ventures there. When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella received him at the completion of his second voyage to the Americas, they were presented with these newly discovered peppers. While their sharpness made the regal duo breathless—too pungent for the potentates—that did not hinder Extramaduran monks from cultivating, drying, smoking and then grinding them. A few centuries later, pimentón was warmly embraced by Spanish gastronomy.

Pimentón agridulce (medium) is made from dark red peppers while pimentón picante (hot) comes from several different types of long red peppers.

GRILLED CHICKEN WITH ROASTED SPICES & PIMENTON

1 fresh chicken, about 3 1/2 lbs
1 plump, fresh garlic head, halved transversely
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T fennel seeds
1 T coriander seeds
1 T cumin seeds

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2-1 T pimentón agridulce or picante or hot paprika

Fresh fennel fronds, stemmed and chopped

Prepare the barbeque grill for to medium heat or medium high heat, moving the coals for an indirect method. In either event, create a gentle, yet hot fire. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate to reduce sticking issues.

Meanwhile, remove the giblets from the body cavities of the chickens and set aside for another use. Remove and discard the fat just inside the body and neck cavities. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water and then drain and blot dry well with paper towels.

Extract the chicken’s backbone using poultry shears or a sharp, heavy chef’s knife. Position the chicken so the back is facing up and the drumsticks are pointing towards you. Cut all the way down one side of the spine through the small rib bones, not through the center of the backbone itself. Cut close to the backbone so you do not lose too much flesh. Next, cut all the way down the other side of the backbone, removing it completely.

(Backbones are good parts to use should stock be in your future so wrap well and freeze.)

Place the chicken skin side up on a cutting board and press firmly on the breast with the heels of your hands until it flattens. Tuck the wingtips to hold them in place, or simply cut them off. Rub the bird first with halved garlic and then brush with olive oil.

Roast the fennel, coriander and cumin in a 400 F oven or toast on stove briefly in a dry skillet. Take care not to burn. Then, grind the fennel, coriander, and cumin with a mortar and pestle or with a spice grinder. Mix in these ground spices with the salt, pepper, and pimentón in a bowl. Liberally sprinkle this combined rub on both sides of the bird.

Grill the chicken, starting with skin side down, turning occasionally (but not obsessively) to prevent overbrowning, until cooked through, some 25 to 30 minutes total. The fowl is done when the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 F by a meat thermometer which is not touching the bone. Let it rest at least 5 minutes before carving.

Carve, lightly shower with chopped fennel fronds and serve with freshly sliced oranges, a medley of grilled vegs and tender young greens such as mesclun, arugula, endive, or watercress lightly tossed in a sherry vinaigrette.

Bend and stretch, reach for the stars. There goes Jupiter, there goes Mars…
~Miss Barbara

Are the Romper Room digressions too age revealing? Maybe just some harebrained, even represssed, cheeseburger to childhood flashbacks—no doubt in black and white.

It seems the hamburger legend goes something like this. During the late Middle Ages, Genghis Khan’s feared Mongol calvary would store to-go patties from lamb and mutton scrapings under their saddles. Apparently, the meat was naturally tenderized from the repetitive impact between gear and horse. When his grandson, Khubilai Khan, decided to invade Moscow he brought this ground grub with his marauding hordes. Muscovites assimilated this new found food into their cuisine, redubbing it steak tartare after their name for the invaders.

Onto a tale maybe more reality driven. Raw chopped beef first appeared in France’s fine hotels at the turn of the 20th century, when expanding tourism fueled an epoque of internationalism in restaurants. The dish was originally called beefsteack à l’américain (sp?). The steak tartare vogue really ginned up after WW II. It was raw ground beef topped with a raw egg yolk with capers, chopped onion and chopped parsley. So, steak tartare was originally named not for carnivorous Tartars, but for the tartar sauce that was served with it.

Now, back to the past. In the 17th century, ships from the bustling seaport of Hamburg began calling on Russian harbors ultimately bringing steak tartare back to Germany. Soon it was called “Hamburg steak” or “Steak in the style of Hamburg.” Then, in the late 1800’s, sailors and immigrants from Hamburg brought their beloved ground meat to America, and eating stands along New York harbor began to sprout. After that, the “invention” and dispersion of the hamburger idea in and across America is a matter of controversy and sometimes baseless debate.

Gastronomic proof has again proven elusive yet plausible on each count.

For reasons unknown, this has been a post I have avoided. Maybe it was familiarity breeds contempt or perhaps the subject seemed to lack culinary sexiness. In any event, I thankfully broke down. This is not meant to be some step-by-step on creating the sui generis backyard burger as perfection is not the desired end. Rather, just consider these few random tidbits to help make those primal burger grilling experiences ever more blissful.

Marbled Meat
Ground beef with a meat-to-fat ratio between 75%-25% and 80%-20%. Assuming the leanest meat is the best is a grave error. Lean ground beef, e.g. 7% fat, will likely result in dry burgers. When grilled, much of the meat’s fat will drain off so a lean start leads to a cardboard finish. Then a fatter patty (> 80%-20%) will lead to issues such as shrinkage.

Consider a coarse grind as finely ground meat can become soft and mushy, making the patties hard to work with and more likely to fall apart on the hot grill. In the best of all possible worlds, grind your own using select, choice or prime grade meat, particularly chuck.

Toothsome Buns
Think buns too. So many put their best efforts into the meat without regard for bun quality, texture, flavor and size. Try to achieve a meat-to-bun ratio of 1:1 which usually means buns with about a 4″-4 1/2″ diameter. Super sized, overhanging buns do not allow for an equal taste of every element (meat, bun, cheese, toppings) in every bite. Brioche, challah, conventional, seeded or not, grilled or not—your bun affinities rule.

Chill In Advance
Before you even form the patties, put the meat in the fridge for about an hour. Chilling the meat helps it withstand the body heat exuded by your hands when forming the burgers. Consider washing your hands in cold water before working the patties to reduce their temperature.

After the patties are sculpted, place in the refrigerator once again before cooking.

Do Not Overwork
Avoid working the meat too much. Nimbly form the patties and leave them alone. Less handling, no slamming or spanking and no squeezing are much preferred and lead to a moister, more tender end product. Overwrought ground beef turns into flavorless mush, as the heat from your hands and the friction of mixing breaks down the morsels of fat that create juice and flavor. Et voilà, a grilled beef brick.

Use Both Hands
Pull the meat apart into equal pieces, then pat down into a patty with one hand while forming the rough edge with the other. Some even swear that the lid of a Hellmann’s mayonnaise jar makes the best possible burger mold. Steer clear of magnum patties as they are so often disproportionate to buns and toppings. I tend to prefer a burger with the circular dimensions of the bun and a thickness of about 1″ or so.

A Glowing Grill
Preheat charcoal grill to medium high to high heat. Hold your open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands you retract it in around 2 seconds.

The object is to hard sear the meat rather quickly so it is nicely browned, but not overly charred, while imbued with the flavors and scents of the grill. Should you wish a little variation, add pre-soaked wood chips or rosemary sprigs in the grill to impart.

Many espouse placing the meat on heated heavy, cast iron pans or griddles and never cook patties directly over the grill. This method allows beef fat to render and gather around the patties as they cook. The hamburger grease alone is a condiment.

Season Last
Add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper right before grilling, as after time salt tends to dry out the patties.

Resist the Urge to Touch
Let well enough alone while the burger cooks. When raw meat hits a hot grate it will naturally stick, almost seizing the grill for dear life. If you try to turn the patties too early the burgers will tear and fall apart. The secret is to flip the burger the moment after it has released from the grate.

Of course, cooking time is dependent on patty thickness. The easiest way to determine the degree of final doneness is by firmness. During the cooking process the meat changes color, juices become clear, the meat shrinks and the patty becomes firm. Just lightly feel the degree of firmness with a finger or touch gently with the spatula. For me, the goal is precisely medium rare—cooked well on the outside and rosy pink from edge to edge on the inside.

Do Not Press Down the Meat
Consider this to be a cardinal rule of cooking burgers. Sinfully smashing meat on the grill with a spatula squeezes out the juices, rendering the patty dry and flavorless. Heresy. I have no clue why grillers insist on making these hockey pucks.

Cheese It
Gooey cheese choices are crucial and can truly morph your burgers. Think cheddars, american, emmenthal, manchego, brie, tallegio, asiago, fontina, mozzarella, bleu, morbier, gruyère…To achieve that melted, oozy texture, add cheese shortly after the last flip while the burger is still being grilled. As with all sandwiches, please never overdress.

Allow to Rest
After removing from the grill, let the burger rest for at least 5 minutes in order to redistribute the interior juices. Otherwise, the juices will bleed out profusely on first bite leaving a dried out disc behind.

Beyond The Norm
While I am a basic cheeseburger fiend—beef, cheese, bun (maybe bacon)—there are some game changers beyond exotic cheeses, breads, buns and varied wood chips:

Cheeses (see above)
Lamb or pork shoulders or combos thereof
Pulled pork nest
Pork belly slice(s)
Bacon, pancetta, proscuitto, serrano
Foie gras
Capers
Kosher dills
Grilled chiles, such as poblanos, jalapeños, anaheim, et al.
Grilled or caramelized yellow or red onions, scallions, shallots
Grilled mushrooms
Grated beets
Fried eggs, sunny side up
A slather of roasted garlic
Arugula, red leaf or romaine lettuces or anything green and crispy
Speaking of, fresh herbs
Grilled or fresh heirloom tomatoes (local and in season)
Basil pesto, tomato pesto
Thyme, herbes de provence, rosemary
Coriander, cumin, turmeric, biryani, garam masala, cardomam
Mayonnaise, tarragon mayonnaise, aïoli, chipotle or jalapeno mayonnaise
Dijon mustard, tzatziki sauce
Chutneys
Harissa
Avocado, avocado, avocado

Laissez-faire fare.

Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.
~Victor Hugo

Attributed to a 14th century English friar, William of Ockham, Occam’s razor is the heuristic principle that entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity (entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem). So, it follows that the simplest solution is usually the correct one.

As the esteemed Stephen Hawking noted in A Brief History of Time:

“We could still imagine that there is a set of laws that determines events completely for some supernatural being, who could observe the present state of the universe without disturbing it. However, such models of the universe are not of much interest to us mortals. It seems better to employ the principle known as Occam’s razor and cut out all the features of the theory that cannot be observed.”

In the kitchen and on the table, the same principle of parsimony often reigns. Slowly cooked root vegetables are a culinary epitome of this theory…agrestic simplicity.

Just cut the turnips and celeriac in roughly the same sizes as the other roots so they cook fairly evenly. Please do not fret — the perfection of imperfection should be the goal.

BRAISED ROOT VEGETABLES

1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
1 lb parsnips, trimmed, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1 lb smaller carrots, peeled and tops trimmed
1 lb turnips, trimmed, peeled and cut thickly lengthwise
1 lb celeriac, trimmed, peeled and cut thickly lengthwise
4 large shallots, trimmed, peeled and halved lengthwise
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 C chicken stock
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 T unsalted butter, chilled and chopped into bits

1/2 C parsley and thyme, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the olive oil and butter into a large pot over medium high heat. Add the vegetables, toss to coat well and season with salt and pepper. Add chicken stock, thyme sprigs, bay leaf and bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Add butter and toss well. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with mixed herbs.

Ahi “Niçoise”

May 13, 2010

Sorry, Charlie…Starkist doesn’t want tuna with good taste, Starkist wants tuna that tastes good.
~StarKist, Chicken of the Sea

A highly migratory, fish found in many oceans, tuna are from the family Scombridae, mostly in the genus Thunnus. They are swift swimmers, with some species capable of speeds of over 50 mph. Unlike most flat fish, which have white flesh, the muscle tissue of tuna ranges from pink to dark red hues. The coloration derives from high quantities of myoglobin, an oxygen-binding molecule.

Tuna have a remarkable ability to maintain body core temperatures above that of ambient seawater which enhances their superior swimming speeds while running at reduced energy rates. This endothermy is achieved by conserving the heat generated through normal body metabolism via the action of an intertwined meshwork of veins and arteries, known as the rete mirable (“wonderful net”), located in the body’s periphery.

Whenever your love life has gone south, rethink those urgings from friends that “there are plenty of fish in the sea,” as 90% of the big fish in the world are already gone; and if global fishing trends continue, there will be even fewer wild fish left by mid-century. Love the one you’re with?

Across the seas, tuna fisheries face a number of urgent problems that threaten their continued existence and endanger wider marine ecosystems. There have been alarming tuna stock declines and unfortunately poor conservation strategies have been in the making. Troll and long line tuna fishing techniques have resulted in large bycatch, including threatened or endangered species such as sea turtles, sharks and seabirds.

So, make a sustainable catch at the market and buy tuna nabbed with troll or pole & line gear to avoid the evils of indiscriminate bycatch. Above all, please make tuna a rare treat until populations have had a chance to reload.

SEARED TUNA “NICOISE” WITH TWO VINAIGRETTES & FRISEE

Sherry Vinaigrette
2 T sherry vinegar
2 T red wine vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
Pinch of herbes de provence
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1-1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

Whisking gently in a bowl, combine sherry and red wine vinegars, mustard, herbes de provence, salt and pepper. Then, whisking more vigorously, slowly add olive oil in a narrow steady stream to create an emulsion. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. May be made a day or two ahead and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Tapenade Vinaigrette
4 T tapenade*
2 t Dijon mustard
2 fresh plump garlics, peeled and crushed gently
1 t sea salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
2 T sherry vinegar
1-1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

Gently whisk together tapenade, mustard, garlic, salt, pepper, and sherry vinegar. Whisking further and much more robustly, slowly add olive oil in a narrow steady stream to form an emulsion. Discard garlic cloves. May be made a day or two ahead and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator.

1 lb haricots verts, ends trimmed
3 T spring onions or scallions, thinly sliced

1 lb fingerling potatoes
Cold water
Sea salt

2 fresh ahi or yellowfin tuna fillets, thickly cut 1 1/2″ to 2″ thick
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T fresh thyme leaves, chopped

3 T capers, rinsed and dried
1 C cherry tomatoes, halved
1 C yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
2-3 heads frisée, cleaned, cored and torn into bite sized pieces

Put green beans in large pot of boiling salted water. and blanch until just tender and crisp, 3-4 minutes. Drain beans in colander and plunge into ice cold water to halt cooking and retain the green hue. Promptly drain on cloth or paper towel—otherwise, the beans will become soggy. Then, in a bowl toss with the sliced spring onions or scallions and some sherry vinaigrette. Set aside.

In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add liberal amounts of salt. Add potoatoes and cook until fork tender, approximately 20-25 minutes. Remove from the pot and let stand until room temperature. Once cooled, slice and set aside.

Heat a large heavy nonstick sauté skillet over high heat. Brush each tuna liberally with olive oil, and season with salt, pepper and lightly with thyme. Add tuna to pan and sear briefly until rare in the center, about 2 minutes per side depending on thickness. Take care just to sear quickly and not overcook, and do not turn the tuna over repeatedly—just once. When done, it should be rare in the center but not cold. Remove from pan and lightly brush one side with olive oil, and lightly season one side again with salt and pepper. Slice tuna across the grain and on the bias.

Toss the green beans, spring onions, potatoes, capers, cherry tomatoes and frisée with sherry vinaigrette. Arrange the green beans, spring onions, potatoes, capers, cherry tomatoes and frisée in a colorful array on each plate and top with tuna slices. Lightly drizzle some tapenade vinaigrette over the tuna.

*Tapenade
2 C Niçoise olives, pitted
3 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped roughly
3 T capers, drained and rinsed
2 high quality anchovy fillets
1/2 t fresh thyme leaves
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 t Dijon mustard
Dash of brandy or cognac
6 T olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the olives, garlic, capers, anchovies, thyme, lemon juice, mustard, and cognac. Process in bursts to form a thick paste.

With the processor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until it is thoroughly incorporated into a paste. Season with pepper, then allow the tapenade to stand for an hour or so to allow the flavors to marry.

Pourboire:  apparently, a Dutch study has found that swordfish exude body grease which allows them to swim so rapidly.  While swordfish are the sole members of their family, Xiphidae, and are solitary swimmers, one wonders if the same performance enhancement oil holds true for tuna.

(The radish is) a vulgar article of the diet…that has a…remarkable power of causing flatulence and eructation.
~Pliny the Elder

Native to Asia, radishes (Raphanus sativus) are more than edible root vegetables of the Brassicaceae family. They have a lengthy culinary history, even serving as a staple to ancient Egytian slaves. The common name derives from the the Latin word radix which means “root.” Displaying an array of shapes and colors—red, pink, black, yellow, purple, white—they are related to broccoli, cauliflower, mustard, and brussels sprouts. That distinctive tangy radish flavor results from the mustard oil found in these cruciferous vegetables.

Radishes are rich in ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which is a cancer preventing antioxidant. They are also a significant source of folic acid, potassium, riboflavin, iron, and calcium.

Sometimes we fall short in the kitchen by failing to recognize a food’s mutability. While they are so often relegated to life in a raw state, radishes are radiant when braised, sautéed, seared or roasted. So, liberate them. As with most roots, this often overlooked and forgotten vegetable becomes kind, even mellow, when cooked.

BRAISED RADISHES

2 bunches icicle or red radishes, washed, tops and tails trimmed
3 T unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, peeled and diced
2 thyme sprigs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T honey
Water, to cover

1 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

So they are all nearly uniform in size and cook evenly, cut larger red radishes lengthwise.

In a heavy pan melt butter over medium high heat. Add shallots and thyme, and sauté, occasionally stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add radishes, salt and pepper, honey and just enough water to cover radishes. Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until tender when pierced by a paring knife, about 15 minutes.

Remove radishes to a serving dish and discard thyme sprigs. Increase heat and boil braising liquid down until reduced to about 1/4 cup. Whisk in remaining butter, season to taste with salt and pepper, and pour over radishes.

SAUTEED RADISHES

2 bunches red radishes, washed, tops and tails trimmed
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 T unsalted butter
4 high quality anchovy fillets, finely chopped
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 T balsamic vinegar
Pinch or two red pepper flakes

Artisanal bread, sliced on the diagonal, brushed with extra virgin olive oil and toasted, sautéed or grilled
Chopped herbs, such as tarragon, parsley, rosemary, or thyme

So they are all nearly uniform in size and cook evenly, cut larger radishes lengthwise.

Heat olive oil and butter in large skillet over medium high heat until hot but not smoking or browning. Add radishes in a single, uncrowded layer and season with salt and pepper. Cook radishes, without moving them, until they are lightly colored on the underbelly, about 3 minutes. Stir with a spatula and continue cooking until tender when pierced by a paring knife, about 3 more minutes.

In a medium heavy skillet or sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in anchovies, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat and simmer until coalesced into a sauce, about 5 minutes.

Top each slice of bread with several radishes. Spoon sauce on top, sprinkle with herbs and serve.

For years, I have consistently held that fear will be the bane of the 21st century. Well financed, unfettered fearmongering is America’s true threat. Fear and ignorance—those two tawdry bedmates ever entwined on that grimy mattress askew on the floor in that lurid, dimly lit room—are always breeding racism and bigotry. Fear and ignorance of things large and small will prove to be our downfall.

This evening, I watched the Phoenix Suns (led by immigrant Hall of Fame guard Steve Nash) in the Western conference semifinals game proudly wearing their jerseys emblazoned with Los Suns. The players were honoring the Latino community and the diversity of the league. The gesture also was protesting an anti-immigrant bill enacted by the Arizona legislature which they found intolerant and incompatible with basic fairness and equal protection under the law. Kudos to their sensitivity and willingness to step beyond the arc to deliver a timely shot on Cinco de Mayo.

Fittingly, the Suns’ game was preceded by a documentary called Inside the Reich.

Last month, Arizona’s El Gobernador Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, sophistically entitled “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.” A deceivingly kind and gentle name for such a loathsome law. This measure obligates police to ascertain a person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is an illegal alien. If you look like an illegal alien, and have no papers on your person, then you are simply taken into custody. Even inducing illegal immigration, giving shelter to illegal immigrants, or transporting an illegal alien, either knowingly or while recklessly disregarding the individual’s immigration status subjects you to arrrest. So, not only are police required to profile, but regular citizens are as well. It seems should you heedlessly fail to determine the “immigration status” of anyone in your car or truck, you have committed a crime.

Please do not be duped by radical idealogues or the culturally inane. This bill invites racial profiling and is imbued with prejudice based upon skin color and linguistic variety. This bill is a feeble attempt at legally enforcing homogeneity. In the land of the eternal tan, brown skin has become a basis for interrogation?

Sadly, other state legislatures are eyeing copycat legislation. Legal challenges over the bill’s constitutionality, fevered protests, and economic boycotts are already underway.

(Just a brief reminder. True Arizonans were and are the native American tribes who were summarily displaced by white conquerors. The state was formerly Mexican territory until the Mexican-American War otherwise called The U.S. Invasion by most latinos. This conflict was driven by the imperialist notion of Manifest Destiny. The belief that America had a divine right to expand the country’s borders from sea to shining sea, and his purported concerns over “national security” were the pretenses behind President Polk seeking out military conflict. Sounds eerily familiar. Based on forked-tongue rhetoric, the U.S. government invaded Mexico and unjustly seized large tracts of land, including Arizona…a region which attained statehood merely 98 years ago.)

Arizona’s knee jerk reactionary bill must be replaced by a reasoned policy of understanding — one that makes economic, legal, social, historical, and moral sense.

Ironically and thankfully, Mexican food is supremely genuine and devoid of such duplicity. Tacos al Carbón, meaning tacos cooked over charcoal, are such honest fare. They are quintessential backyard-balcony-picnic-tailgate eats.

TACOS AL CARBÓN

1 medium white onion, peeled and roughly chopped
5 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 C freshly squeezed lime juice
1 t cumin seeds, toasted and freshly ground
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 poblano chiles, stemmed, halved and seeded
4 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, halved and seeded
2 medium white onions, peeled and sliced into thick rounds
1 1/2 lb beef skirt, flank or sirloin steak, trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Cilantro, chopped
Lime wedges
12 corn or flour tortillas, heated

In a food processor or blender combine the chopped white onion, garlic, lime juice, cumin, salt and pepper. Process to a smooth puree and smear the over both sides of the skirt steak in a baking dish. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Prepare the charcoal fire to medium high. Leave a lower area of the coals for less intense, indirect cooking.

Arrange the chiles on the grill, and cook, turning occasionally until the skin is blistered and uniformly blackened all over, about 5 minutes. Remove the chiles from the grill and cover well. After they reach room temperature, remove the charred skin and slice.

Meanwhile, brush the onion slices with olive oil and lay the whole rounds of onions on the grill. Grill until they soften and are lightly browned, about 10 minutes per side. Gently separate the grilled rings.

Remove the steak from the marinade and place it on the grill. Grill, turning once, until medium rare, about 2-3 minutes per side.

Before filling the tacos, heat over the grill until they just become pliable. Alternatively, place several wrapped in aluminum foil in an oven preheated to 400 F for about 8-10 minutes.

Carve the grilled steak on a bias across the grain into thin strips. Loosely mix with the chiles and onions, season to taste and serve with the lime wedges, cilantro and tortillas.

Spinach is susceptible of receiving all imprints: It is the virgin wax of the kitchen.
~Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de La Reynière

While there are many variations of spinach, generally speaking, there are four main types: savoy, semi-savoy, flat leaf, and baby. Savoy spinach has crinkly, dark green curly leaves. Flatleaf or smooth leaf spinach is unwrinkled and have spade-shaped leaves that are easier to clean than the curly types. The stalks are usually very narrow and tasty. Semi-savoy is a mix of the savoy and flat-leaf. Baby spinach leaves are of the flat-leaf variety and are usually no longer than three inches. These tender, sweet leaves are more expensive and are sold loose rather than in bunches.

Savoy spinach, a/k/a curly leaf spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is a cool season green which belongs botanically to the goosefoot family. It is thought to have first been cultivated in ancient Persia, later making its way to China. Ultimately, the Moors brought their beloved spinach to Spain during their several century conquest and occupation there. That began spinach’s journey across the continent.

Catherine de’ Medici, that major political and artistic mover and shaker of the 16th century, became a fervent patron of the French kitchen soon after she married Henri, Duc d’Orléans, the future Henri II of France. The arrival of this plump Italian teenager marked the nascency of classic French gastronomy, and even the revolutionary introduction of the fork to tables there. Caterina Maria Romola di Lorenzo de’ Medici was so enamored with the leafy vegetable that when she married and moved to France she not only brought her personal chefs with their exquisite techniques, but also brought her adored Florentine spinach.

The English word for this delectable green—spinach—is derived from the middle French espinache from the old Provence espinarc, which is possibly via the Catalan espinac, from the Andalusian Arabic isbinakh, from the Arabic isbanakh, and originally from the old Persian aspanakh. A delightfully tortuous linguistic path. You can almost visualize those old snaky dotted lines tracking the trek of this green on an antiquated map.

The egg strumpet in me re-emerges with this recipe. But, that is another story that I don’t have time to tell.

POACHED EGGS WITH SAVOY SPINACH

2 large scallions, light green and white parts, thinly sliced (dark green reserved)
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 T unsalted butter
1 large bunch savoy spinach, stems trimmed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 C heavy whipping cream
4 large eggs, room temperature

Crushed red pepper flakes

In a heavy skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add scallion and garlic sauté until sweated, about 2 minutes. Add spinach leaves, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until spinach wilts, about 3 minutes. Stir in cream and let simmer for a couple of minutes to thicken some. Discard garlic cloves.

Carefully crack each egg into a bowl, then slide into the skillet, so they fit in one layer. Reduce heat to medium low and season with salt and pepper. Cover pan and let cook for 2 minutes, then turn off heat and let eggs rest, covered, about another 30 seconds until the whites cooked through and the yolks are runny. Season with a pinch or so of red pepper flakes and garnish with the reserved chopped scallions.

Carefully scoop eggs, spinach and sauce into shallow soup bowls over grilled or toasted artisanal bread which has been brushed with extra virgin olive oil.