A cure for what ails you

I spent the summer after my first year of medical school living in the Mission District on San Francisco, doing orthopedic research, and living in a rented room in a kind soul’s home. Living in someone else’s space severely limited my ability to do much cooking. So I was forced to survive on a steady diet of Cliff bars, mission burritos, and salmon and kale. Salmon and kale? Sounds like a pretty rough life.

I’d constantly ping pong between the super fancy cappuccino machine, my desk, and the operating room during the day. Then I would book it to the gym in Hayes Valley after work to get in a few hours of training. By the time I made it back to the apartment, it would be pitch black. So dinner would consist of a handful of raw kale and a few slivers of Costco cured salmon.

Even though I’m an avowed brunch hater (more on that another day) cured salmon has got to be one of my favorite brunch items. There’s something magical about the combination of lox, capers, red onion, tomato, and cream cheese on an everything bagel. When Sarah and I lived in New Orleans, our place of choice was Stein’s. Now that we’ve moved to DC, we frequent a cheekily named place, So’s Your Mom to get our fix. Sometimes though, when we’re feeling fancy (or when we want more lox than the 2-3 slices delis often drape over a bagel), we make our own.

Curing is a method of preserving food prior to refrigeration. There are a lot of ways to cure using smoke, fermentation, pickling, salt, sugar. Personally, I like to use a mixture of salt and sugar curing for salmon. The salt draws out the moisture from both the salmon and any micro-organisms living on the salmon via osmosis. In the process, it slows down or kills the growth of bad micro-organisms. The sugar serves a two-fold purpose – it balances out the flavor of the salt and is an energy source for good microbes like Lactobacillus which drops the pH and also inhibits growth of bad microbes. In the process of curing, the salmon will shrink in size as the moisture content decreases, but what it loses in size it gains in additional flavors of the cure. I also love seeing the color of the salmon change to a darker, richer hue of orange after curing.

Simple Cured Salmon

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Ingredients:

  • Fresh Salmon                 1/4-1/2 lb cut
  • Salt (not iodized)           1/4 cup
  • Brown Sugar                   1/4 cup
  • Grapefruit/Lemon          1

The combo of salt, sugar, and some form of citrus is a classic combo for curing. You can riff off of this as you like with more herbs and seasoning to create more layers of flavor. Start by drying off your piece of raw salmon with paper towel. In a bowl, combine equal parts salt and brown sugar. Be careful not to use iodized salt as it can impart a bitter flavor. Zest your citrus of choice into the bowl. Mix sugar, salt, citrus zest with your hands to make uniform. Lay salmon on a piece of plastic wrap. Cover salmon with a light layer of curing mixture and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place it on a plate in your refrigerator to catch any juices that collect. Leave for 2-3 days in refrigerator.

Unwrap from plastic wrap and gently rinse off the curing mixture and pat dry salmon with paper towels. Slice thinly and enjoy!

-D

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A mixture of several things in no particular order

When I reminisce about my time in New Orleans, one of the things I miss the most is having impromptu cook outs in the backyard with friends. One of our friends, Thomas, had the perfect backyard for such occasions. His house was actually raised one story up in the air. His backyard contained a menagerie of chickens, ducks, dogs, and a guinea fowl (which we ended up eating, but that’s a story for later). He also had an enviable garden brimming with assorted herbs and vegetables. A few banana trees ringed the perimeter whose leaves we harvested to protect delicate foods from the heat of the grill. To top it all off, underneath his raised house was an area that served as a clubhouse of sorts and was the perfect hideaway during tropical thunderstorms. It was walled off with wooden screens, and he had strung lights all around the inside. It had a beat-up couch and, of course, a custom table used for games of the alcoholic variety.

I have to thank Thomas for introducing me to this particular recipe as I had never heard of it prior to him having me chop copious amounts of garlic and parsley to create the magic that is chimichurri. Chimichurri has got to be one of my top 5 favorite sauces. It is so ridiculously versatile – Sarah and I put it on beef (the original usage), chicken, eggs, fish, sweet potatoes, etc. When I cooked for my resident class during our beach retreat, I made a large bowl of chimichurri to serve along with some grilled chicken kabobs. It adds a perfect amount of freshness and heat to almost anything. Chimichurri originally comes from Argentina, and the name is believed to be derived from the Basque tximitxurri , meaning “a mixture of several things in no particular order.” I’ve since riffed on Thomas’ recipe and made my own version that I thinks bears homage to the spirit of the name.

Flank Steak with Chimichurri

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Ingredients:

  • Flank steak                                1 lb
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Chipotle chili powder

For the chimichurri :

  • Parsley                                       1 cup, chopped
  • Cilantro                                      1 cup, chopped
  • Garlic                                          3 cloves, minced
  • Jalapeno (optional)                   1-2, seeded and chopped
  • Lime                                            2, juiced
  • Olive oil                                       1/4 cup
  • Water                                           3 T
  • Vinegar                                        1 T
  • Sugar                                            1.5 T
  • Salt                                                To taste
  • Pepper                                          To taste

Let’s start with the chimichurri. If you want to take the easy way, you can always just put everything into the food processor and run it. I happen to like the end texture that comes with chopping everything yourself. Chop your parsley, cilantro, and jalapeno. Mince your garlic. Add everything into a bowl. Add lime juice, olive oil, water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. Mix well and really try to incorporate everything into one big slurry. Set mixture in refrigerator to cool.

In the meantime, allow your flank steak to come to room temperature. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chipotle chili. Heat up a large grill/grill pan on high. Lay your seasoned flank steak on it and cook for 2 minutes on one side. You may press down lightly on a few sections of the flank steak with your tongs to get those nice grill marks. Immediately flip and cook for another 2 minutes on the other side. It is important to only cook the flank steak for 4 minutes total. If you over-cook it, it turns incredibly rough and chewy. Remove from grill/grill pan and gently score the top of the flank steak with a small knife. Spoon over some chimichurri and let the flavor incorporate into the meat. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Enjoy and use the leftover chimichurri on everything else.

-D

Accidental housewife

Several months ago I made the difficult decision to leave my surgical residency program. For many reasons, the program, and the profession itself, no longer seemed like the best fit for me in the long term and, after 7 months on the job, I committed to leaving at the end of the year. While I talked about this decision to essentially everyone who would listen, the realities of my choice didn’t really hit me until last week, the first in my adult life without a job. There are perks, of course, like eating something for breakfast that isn’t a Clif bar and eating that something sitting down, or drinking two tall glasses of water in quick succession without worrying that I will need to pee while scrubbed. But there are downsides too – namely long stretches of time spent by myself, haunted by the fear of not finding something productive to do or, worse, leaping into something that ends up being an equally bad fit. It’s enough to drive a person crazy, and it’s only been one week.

To keep my nerves in check I’m slowly rekindling old hobbies, doing things that I’ve had little time for in the past year. We’re having more people over and accepting more invitations, I’m settling back into a regular exercise routine, discovering how shockingly inflexible I’ve become, and spending more time outside. Perhaps more relevant to this space, I’m also spending more time tinkering in the kitchen and have taken back the dinner reins from Dennis. Last week I attacked a project I’ve been back-burnering for ages and tried making my own sourdough starter. I spent the better part of the week dutifully feeding my starter once, then twice a day, sniffing carefully each time for the development of that distinctive sourdough tang. I tried baking my first loaves with the starter last Thursday and it was a total flop – no rise. While things smelled right and the flavor profile was there I ended up with two dense dough bricks. Alas. After torturing my brother and his girlfriend with the results of the attempt (it was technically edible… perhaps the soup masked the shortcomings?) I scrapped the rest of the batch. On to attempt #2. To compensate for making Dennis my baking test subject, I have also been cooking some classic favorites, like curried lentils with spinach. This recipe comes together in under an hour and is a great way to incorporate a good amount of spinach into a meal (or to plow through the remainder of a giant Costco bag of spinach just this side of spoiling). This is also one of those wonderful stews that gets more rich and flavorful with time, so plan to make a giant batch so that you have increasingly delicious lunches to look forward to over the course of the week.

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Curried Lentils with Spinach

  • 1 medium yellow onion, julienned
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 T grated ginger
  • 2 T cumin
  • 1 t turmeric
  • 1/2 t cumin
  • 1/2 t coriander
  • 1/4 t cinnamon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 t cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 2 C red lentils
  • 1 can coconut milk (full fat)
  • 2 large handfuls spinach, chopped
  • Additional salt, to taste

Heat about 1T oil in a dutch oven or other heavy sauce-pan. When oil is hot, add onions. Cook onions until they begin to turn translucent, then add garlic and ginger. Stir frequently to prevent burning. When the onions are starting to turn golden-brown, add all spices. Stir for about 1 minute to allow the spices to toast. When the mixture smells nicely aromatic, add the can of coconut milk. Refill the empty coconut milk can with water and add the can of water as well, stirring to incorporate. Add the lentils. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through and tender. Pay attention to how dry the mixture looks – you may need to add additional water to prevent burning or sticking. When the lentils have nearly cooked through, incorporate the spinach.

 

“Clam”oring for more Part 2

Assuming you and your guests have not depleted the sumptuous broth left over from our previous steamed clams recipe, you are in luck! Because we are cross utilizing it for today’s treat.

After Sarah and I first made the steamed clams recipe,  we were completely enamored with the flavor-packed broth that was leftover and decided that we could not just simply dispose of it. Somehow, I settled on the idea of risotto.

Risotto is an Italian dish which is essentially rice with broth cooked to a creamy consistency. It is really important to use a starchy rice, classically arborio, for the best texture.

Clam Risotto

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Ingredients:

  • Arborio rice                                 2 cups
  • Onion                                            1 medium, diced
  • Clam broth                                   3-4 cups
  • Butter                                            2 T
  • Spinach*                                       2 cups, chopped

Prior to starting, put your leftover broth through a cheese cloth or sieve to get rid of any sediment. In a large pan, melt butter over medium high heat. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add rice and a small pinch and salt and saute for 2-3 minutes. Slowly add broth one cup at a time and stir constantly. If you run out of broth, it is okay to add some water as well. Unlike conventional rice, stirring is important to help release all the starches from the rice grain to obtain that classic risotto consistency. When you have obtained your desired texture. stir in the spinach and serve.

*I’ve substituted bok choy in this dish with great results as well.

-D

“Clam”oring for more

Back when I was a kid, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of eating mollusks. There was just something about the idea of eating organisms who spent their life filtering gunk from the ocean that was not terribly appealing. Then there was also the slightly chewy texture that made them difficult to stomach.

But as I’ve grown older, I forced myself to retry some of the things that once turned me away. When Sarah and I were back in New Orleans, I remember spotting a bag of clams and deciding that I would try to make something from them. New Orleans also happens to be home to Pesche, James Beard winner for best new restaurant in 2014. Sarah and I had a very tasty curried mussels recipe that I drew upon for some inspiration for this next dish.

My favorite part about this dish is how simple and easy it is despite seeming much fancier. It takes very little work and tastes amazing.

Garlic Steamed Clams with Herbs 

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Ingredients:

  • Clams                    5 lb, cleaned and rinsed
  • Garlic                    2 cloves, minced
  • Onion                    medium, diced
  • Rosemary             2 sprigs
  • Thyme                   2 sprigs
  • Sage                       2 sprigs
  • White wine          1.5 cups
  • Butter                    2 T
  • Lemon                   1
  • Black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes

In a large pot, melt butter on medium high heat. Add diced onions and garlic. Cook until onions translucent. Add rosemary, thyme, sage, and clams. Add white wine and turn to high heat. Put top over pot and let steam for 5-7 minutes. Afterwards, remove from heat. All the clams should have opened. Squeeze juice of 1 lemon over pot. Crack some black pepper and sprinkle on some red pepper flakes to taste. Serve in bowl with some of leftover clam/wine broth and fresh bread for dipping.

*Save your leftover broth and stay tuned for the next recipe!*

-D

Comforting Chicken Curry

“Comfort food.”

Whenever I hear those words, I always think about the scene in Ratatouille where food critic Anton Ego tastes Remy’s dish and is immediately transported back to his childhood. Comfort food to me has to satisfy 3 major criteria.

  1. Invoke major nostalgia
  2. Transports you home
  3. Homemade

Smells, above all else, seem to trigger the strongest memories. Like many of you, I think there is no chef in the world quite like mom. My mom has made a ton of different dishes that I always associate with home. I’m also proud that in the last few years, she has also really expanded her repertoire to include cuisines outside of Chinese. If you do happen to visit my mom, don’t be surprised if she consistently asks you if you want some of her homemade tiramisu for dessert or a snack. She also makes her own duck confit.

In honor of a belated mother’s day, I want to share a recipe for chicken curry that my mom made for me growing up. This recipe is one of my many favorites. It also has additional meaning for me because it is one of the first recipes I learned from her. It also inspired the first and only episode of “Ren Can Cook” – a Martin Yan inspired video project for a high school Mandarin class.

Chicken Curry

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Ingredients:

  • bell peppers                           4, julienned
  • onion                                       2, sliced thinly
  • ginger                                      2 cm, minced
  • garlic                                        3 cloves, minced
  • chicken thighs                        6, diced
  • potatoes                                   6 small, diced
  • curry cubes                             4
  • green onion                             sliced for garnish
  • water                                        1.5-2 cups

Heat up 1/2 tablespoon of oil in large wok/saucepan on high heat. Add sliced bell peppers and onions. Add a pinch of salt and saute until lightly browned and set aside. In same wok/pan, add diced potatoes. Add a pinch of salt and saute until outside is light browned and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil to wok/pan.Add diced chicken, minced garlic and ginger. Saute diced chicken until outside is nicely seared. Add curry cubes and water. Stir until curry cubes are dissolved. Add in bell peppers, onions, potatoes. Bring entire mixture to a boil then let simmer for 20-30 minutes. As the water evaporates, you will be left with a nice curry sauce. Garnish with green onions and serve over rice.

I love you mom!

-D

Lassi but not least

I still remember one night, back when I lived in Boston, when I ran into a friend heading home from the gym at an hour when most people were venturing out to bars. He was working for some big bank or consulting firm at the time, the kind of place where the 9-5 grind is more like 8-7 or so, if you’re lucky. I commented that I was impressed by his dedication, devoting his little free time to staying in shape, when it would be so easy to let that sort of thing fall by the wayside. He smiled a little and then said, ‘the way I see it, if I get out of shape on top of everything else, they’ll have won – my job will have officially taken over my life. As long as I stay fit, I’m still winning.’ I’ve thought about that comment a lot over the years, pretty much anytime I’ve started to slip a little, succumbing to the ‘busy-ness’ that pervades medical school and now residency. It’s so easy to just melt into the couch when I get home, grabbing my computer and mindlessly clicking though facebook and the news and design blogs as I left my brain wind down. Over the course of the year I slowly started to succumb to that temptation more often than not, and it had definitely started to feel like the scorecard was heavily on the side of residency. Surgery and pediatrics – 1; Sarah and Dennis – 0. So we’re fighting back, little by little, sometimes just in 10- minute mini-runs. Tempting post-workout snacks definitely help soften the blow. A few weeks ago we brought a box of 18 mangos back from the market, and I became obsessed with the idea of turning some of them into a lassi. I had never made a lassi before, and haven’t consumed all that many of them, but it sounded like a refreshing use of our rapidly ripening haul of fruit. What follows is perhaps not an entirely authentic lassi and is perhaps better classified as a yogurt-heavy smoothie, but it was delicious nonetheless.

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Mango Lassi

  • 2 ripe mangos
  • 1 C plain yogurt*
  • 1/2 C cold water
  • Ice
  • 1-2 T honey (adjust based on sweetness of your fruit)
  • 1/4 t cardamom

Add mangos, yogurt, water, honey, and cardamom to a blender. Pulse until smooth. Add ice until the lassi reaches the desired consistency (we used ~2 handfuls). Top with a sprinkle of cinnamon, if desired.

*Note – we used greek yogurt for this recipe as it was what we had on hand. This resulted in a rather tangy lassi, which we enjoyed. If  you want a sweeter drink, plain yogurt will give you less zip.

-S

The Colors of Spring

The weather in DC has finally started to transition to spring now. Despite the frost and chill, the cherry blossoms around the basin have still managed to bloom. Sarah and I joined the horde of locals and tourists wandering about the National Mall and Jefferson Memorial to take in the sights. Some people were having picnics. Others meandered at an infuriatingly snail-like pace in the middle of the sidewalk  with their heads in the clouds (or blossoms to be more accurate). Some were busy painting. Numerous were trying to capture the perfect photo in the midst of the chaotic crowds. There was a wedding proposal (she said yes!). We caught a glimpse of the couple huddled together with an expression of mixed joy and fearfulness as the multitude of bodies swarmed around them like a fire ants. Their photographer and family members flitted around them snapping photos furiously.

With the beginning of spring, Sarah and I have also decided that it’s about time to shake off the winter doldrums and shed those winter pounds in anticipation for some more time in the sun. We’ve started a more regimented exercise program (complete with measurements) and diet. As such, I’ve been looking a little at the workouts and diets of body builders. It looks like most tried and true diets consist of chicken breast/fish with rice/sweet potato and broccoli. Now as much as I like simplicity, I don’t think these meals necessarily need to be that bland or boring.

Last week also happened to be the first day of the Dupont farmer’s market after being closed all winter so we wandered down to gather some inspiration and ingredients for meal that would herald the beginning of spring in both flavor and color.

Swiss Chard and Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breast with Roasted Garlic and Sweet Potato Puree

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  • Chicken Breast                                      2
  • Swiss Chard                                           2 cups, chopped
  • Mushroom (assorted)                          2 cups
  • Garlic                                                      7 cloves, roasted
  • Parmesan cheese                                  1/3 cup, grated
  • Sweet Potato                                          1/4 lb, peeled, cubed and steamed
  • Lemon                                                     1
  • Olive oil
  • Salt                                                           To taste

Let’s break this down to make things a bit more manageable.

Start by turning on oven to broil. Place cloves of garlic on aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place in oven for 15-20 minutes until fragrant and soft.

Chicken Breast

Pat dry chicken breast and season with salt on both side.

If using Joule, place chicken breast into ziploc and drizzle in olive oil. Place in water for 55 minutes at 149 degrees. After done cooking, slice lengthwise but not all the way through. Add stuffing and sear in hot pan.

If not using Joule, carefully slice in half lengthwise but not all the way through. Scoop the stuffing (see below) into the center. In a hot pan, add cooking oil. Add stuffed chicken breast and sear each side for 7 minutes with a lid over the pan.

Stuffing

Finely chop swiss chard, mushrooms, and garlic (4 cloves). Heat a pan to medium high heat. Add cooking oil. Add the stems of the swiss chard first and mushrooms. Salt lightly and sautee. Add garlic and remainder of swiss chard leaves. Salt lightly and continue to sautee. Takes around 10-15 minutes. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice on top to finish. Add grated Parmesan and mix well.

Puree

Steam cubed sweet potato until soft. Add to food processor along with 3 cloves of roasted garlic. Blend until creamy. You can add a little bit of water to help out with the texture. Salt to taste.

For final plating, spread puree in a circle on bottom of plate. Add stuffed chicken breast. Serve with a side of vegetables (I like having a bitter green).

-D

Honey and Soy Glazed Salmon

It’s been an entire year since we started this blog! I was wistfully looking back at some of our pictures from our time in culinary school the other day and boy do I miss it. We worked 14 hour days but we had so much fun and learned so much. So many techniques, tips, and recipes we still consistently use today in our every day cooking.

But a picture is worth a thousand words so:

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Honey and Soy Glazed Salmon

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Ingredients:

  • salmon filet                              1 lb, portioned 6-8 oz
  • soy sauce                                  1/4  cup
  • black vinegar                           1 T
  • cooking wine                            2 T
  • honey                                         3T
  • garlic                                          2 cloves, minced
  • ginger                                         1 in segment, peeled and minced

In a large bowl, combine soy sauce, black vinegar, cooking wine, honey, garlic, and ginger. Mix together thoroughly and pour contents into large Ziploc bag. Place salmon in bag and allow to marinate at least 2 hours.

Heat up some oil in a pan to medium high. After removing your salmon from the marinade, make sure to thoroughly pat dry with paper towel and lightly score the skin with a knife before laying the salmon skin-side down in the pan. This is the difference between nice, crispy skin vs soggy mess that curls as you cook. Allow the salmon to cook skin-side down until you see that that it has cooked about 3/4 thickness and flip it to the other side to finish things off. In a separate sauce pan, you can start reducing the leftover marinade. Stir consistently to make sure it doesn’t burn. Drizzle the final product over your finished salmon for more flavor.

-D

 

Going Verde

One week of celebrating our anniversary in Mexico City and one week of battling gastroenteritis (unrelated) later, it’s now March 18th. This marks exactly 1 year since Sarah and I discovered via the voodoo magic that is the Match algorithm, that we’d be spending our next few years in sunny recently sleet and snow-covered DC. Yesterday, another cohort of medical students discovered the next destination on their journey. It was also of course St. Patrick’s Day! So we’re going green.

Unfortunately, I’m not sharing any traditionally Irish recipes, but allow me to reminisce a little about our Mexico City trip and share some good pictures. I’ve mentioned before that one of my food heroes is Andrew Zimmern, host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods. So I have a rule that on any international trip, I actively seek out “bizarre” foods. Sarah has half-joked that she should start a photo album of “Dennis Eats Things.”Mexico City definitely did not disappoint. I ate/drank an assortment of insects in various forms, ant larvae, fresh coconut water, and pulque (fermented agave drink) in addition to consuming a small-child’s-weight worth of all the typical tacos, quesadillas, tlacoyo, huaraches, tamales, elotes that dotted the streets.

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One delectable and inescapable element of Mexican cuisine is the sauce or salsa. If you’re lucky, you may stumble upon a taqueria that offers a dizzying selection that you can shameless slather on your platter of tacos. I haven’t yet started trying to recreate every single one we encountered, but here’s a twofer to get started.

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Roasted tomatillo salsa (back) and Avocado cream salsa

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

  • Tomatillos                 4, remove outer husk and rinse well
  • Jalapeno                     1, remove seeds to reduce spice level
  • Garlic                          2 cloves
  • Cilantro                      1/4 cup
  • Olive oil
  • Salt                              To taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place tomatillos, jalapeno, garlic cloves on a large foil sheet. Drizzle on olive oil and sprinkle of salt. Fold foil so that all contents are nicely wrapped in foil package. Place foil package into oven for 30 minutes. This should be enough time to lightly char the tomatillos and jalapeno. Afterward, quarter the the tomatillos. Remove the stem from the jalapeno and seed if desired. Add tomatillos, jalapeno, garlic cloves, and cilantro to a food processor and blend until desire consistency. Add salt to taste. My favorite part of this recipe is that you can taste the change in flavor as the salsa cools. I recommend waiting at least 30 minutes before serving but letting it rest for even longer results in the best flavor.

Avocado Cream Salsa

  • Avocados                 2, pitted
  • Jalapeno                   1, remove seeds if desired
  • Tomatoes                 2, medium
  • Garlic                        3 cloves
  • Cilantro                    1/4 cup
  • Lime                          1, juiced
  • Plain yogurt            1 cup
  • Olive oil
  • Salt                             To taste

This particular salsa is probably one of my favorites. It is the nice cooling and refreshing foil in the myriad of spiciness. Start off exactly the same as the previous recipe (or do both at the same time). Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a large foil sheet, place jalapeno, tomatoes, garlic and drizzle in olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Wrap contents in foil and place in oven for 30 minutes. In the meantime, prep the avocados by removing the pit and cutting the flesh into cubes. You can cut a cross hatch pattern while it is still in the shell and scoop contents into a food processor. Remove foil package from oven when ready. Quarter tomatoes and remove stem from jalapeno (seed if desired). Add tomatoes, jalapeno, garlic, and cilantro into food processor.  Blend until smooth. Add plain yogurt. Blend until smooth. Add salt and lime juice and blend once more. That’s all.*

D

*You may have noticed in the picture that my avocado cream salsa has some red specks of seasoning sprinkled on top. Sarah and I can home with a small jar of sal con chapulines aka grasshopper salt 😉