Happy Birthday to me! Today is the day of my birth and, in celebration, my gift to YOU is a brilliant, green Chilean hot sauce; bright, fresh and intense in flavor called Pebre. It is our family favorite. On weekends when I allow myself a piece of whole grain bread that I baked, I slather it on an egg white sandwich. Magnifico! James, Jimmy and I spread it liberally over grilled meats and fish. A slab of skirt steak with charred bits on the outside but rare and juicy on the inside is a beautiful thing to behold. Pebre is the condiment that throws you over the edge at a good Hispanic restaurant whether it be a four star top-grade establishment down to the back corner of a humble, backwater convenience store or even gas station covering a warm, handmade tortilla just taken out of a styrofoam cooler sitting on the floor. And easy? Easier than falling off a log. Plus it lasts refrigerated for a little over a week. Does it get any better? I think not. So try it. On grilled flank steak. Grouper, dolphin, shrimp or lobster. Pebre dances on chicken and as a dip for grilled bread? OMG. Give yourself a birthday treat and whip this up. You’ll have a healthful new favorite.
How did this black, foul mood get started? When my little eyes fluttered open at 5:45 a.m., I was not unhappy. Then again, I wasn’t thrilled either. But something, something, got under my skin, right up next to me and by the time I had reached worked I was enraged. I felt murderous. On the way to work, my anger was just boiling over. The first time I can remember feeling that I’m-out-of-control-and-I-really-don’t-care sensation was back in the eighties when I was living in Atlanta and my then boyfriend was catting around behind my back. Again. And not bothering to cover his tracks. I had gone home for the weekend and, upon returning, stopped by his house, unannounced. He wasn’t home, but I could see there had been some weekend company. As Dad would say, “a little nocturnal activity”. The signs were everywhere and I was livid. Crazed. Unhinged. And someone was gonna pay. I was a smoker then, and as I paced and swore and paced some more I ended up in his walk-in closet. He fancied himself a stylish dresser. NOT. Without a moment’s hesitation I took my cigarette and burned a large, but not immediately noticeable, hole in every piece of clothing in that enormous closet. Cigarette after cigarette, I chose to burn holes in the armholes and back collars of suit jackets. The cuff or elbow of a shirt. And the crotch of every pant. Natch. Lord, did that feel good!! Sweaters, belts, shoes, everything. I mean, he REALLY did deserve it. He made absolutely certain I saw his collection of girl’s names and phone numbers in the junk drawer in his kitchen. We had decided not to see other people. Cocktail napkins, matchbooks, deposit slips, torn scraps of paper, they were everywhere. He was just hateful. He was a runner and when he left the house to go on a run, there was always a blue jay that would swooped down and attacked him. I’d see that bird and think, “Good. Hope he pecks your eyes out.” Even that bird knew he was evil. Behind his back, my friends called him “BC”, short for “Black Cloud”, or just plain “Larry the Loser”. Can you not mess with me? And why DO we put up with it? But I don’t remember anything like that happening today. And yet, here I was in a dark, dark mood. Hurtling down Bayview bitter and resentful. I thought about what I’d prepare for dinner if I could have anything in the world. That ALWAYS makes me feel better. I came up with appetizers. I wanted three of them. And no meat. So, here’s what we had for dinner and what kept me out of prison. Tyrokafteri, spicy-hot feta dip. Melitzanosalata, roasted eggplant salad, but it’s more like a dip. Hand sliced mushrooms sauteed with garlic and fresh mint, ALL on whole wheat crostini. It was heaven and now, after a glass of my poison, that would be red wine, I’m actually kind of mellow!
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar, red wine vinegar is also fine but balsamic is too dark
4 handfuls of chopped walnuts
salt and pepper to taste
Set oven to broil, high broil if you have the choice. Line a small baking sheet with tin foil, for easy clean up, and place clean, whole eggplants on baking sheet. With eggplants as close to broiler as possible, broil for 30-45 minutes, depending on size of eggplants. Turn every 15 minutes or so, for even broiling.
While eggplants are in oven, add all other ingredients to food processor.
When eggplants have cooked completely, remove from oven to cool. With a sharp knife, make a slit from stem to bottom in skin. When cool to the touch, carefully squeeze liquid from pulp. Using a spoon with a relatively sharp edge, I use a soup spoon, scrape out all the pulp and put in food processor. Process mixture until smooth, scraping down sides of processor every once in a while.
Taste for seasoning. Between the seeds of the eggplants and the walnuts, the mixture will still have a lot of texture. This can be served hot, cold or at room temperature. It can be served as a side or as an appetizer. The eggplants can also be cooked on a grill, just keep your eye on them and don’t forget to turn them occasionally.
2 16-oz. containers large, white, button mushrooms, thinly sliced and sliced by hand
4 or 5 large garlic cloves, finely minced
1 bunch fresh mint, leaves only, chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Heat a large pan on medium high heat and add olive oil then mushrooms. As the mushrooms cook they will begin to release liquid.
Add garlic and salt and pepper. Stir so mushrooms cook evenly.
Cook until mushroom liquid begins to evaporate and then add mint. Allow some of the mushrooms to brown on the bottom of the pan, but be careful not to burn them. They will darken to a beautiful chestnut color. Serve on top of crostini with cold glasses of pinot grigio. This is good hot, cold, or at room temperature.