Back to the Chill, but Warmly

Last week many of us pale Bostonians emerged from our winter dwellings to squint and blink and meander happily in the warm sunshine.  We didn’t have much of a winter but even so, feeling those rays on skin meant a lighter mood felt city-wide.  Now we’re back to 40 and overcast, but that hint of spring was enough to get us looking towards summer. After the trees flower and tulips claim every patch of outdoor space, the Commons will be packed with locals and tourists, the playground behind our apartment will resound with kid-clatter late into the evening, and the tiny restaurant on the corner** will overflow with patrons splitting mouth time between chatter and sweating glasses of sangria.

Special summer menus? Try grilling your choice of steak and eat with a spill of good olive oil and lemon juice and flaky salt – a close friend advised this simple preparation that proved so good that we never, ever stray from it.  Toss thick cut sweet potato pieces with oil, coriander, cumin, hot paprika, salt and pepper and roast, turning once or twice, until the edges are brown and crispy. Another side might be chunky tomato slices, or quickly steamed green beans with butter, lemon, and dill. For dessert, perhaps some watermelon brushed with honey and lime juice slightly charred on the grill, or some drippy  peaches, or soft ice cream. To go with all that food, make a summer playlist. Here’s a great one to start it off:

 

**That tiny restaurant is Orinoco, and it’s worth a trip to one of their locations. Can’t go wrong with pretty much anything on the menu, but bacon-wrapped dates are especially a no-brainer, along with the empanada mechada, any of the arepas, and the pabellon criollo.

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The Ultimate Vegetarian Topping for Sweet Potatoes

When there’s something already cooking in the oven, I usually pop two fork-stabbed and foil-wrapped sweet potatoes in to keep it company. Approximately 45 minutes (depending on sweet potato size and circumference) elapse, and presto change-o, you’ve got lunch or dinner for the next day.

If you’re heating up the oven just for the potatoes, try assembling a topping while they bake. I call this recipe the ultimate vegetarian topping, because in my world when you say “ultimate” next to “topping,” it usually indicates bacon and some form of heavy dairy product, maybe even crispy onions.  There is no meat in this topping, and I like to indicate that in the title so that I’m not playing a “horrible, nasty trick” on a certain someone who was “expecting pork sprinkles.”

Anyway, this topping is especially nice because it counters the sweetness of the potatoes, but still has a cheese indulgence.  There is far too much cheese consumption in this house to actually consider it an indulgence, but let’s not quibble over details.

The Ultimate Vegetarian Topping for Sweet Potatoes
(Inspired by a recipe I once read but can’t remember where, plus changes)

1 jalapeño, deseeded and finely minced (or half of the jalapeño, if you prefer less heat)
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Bunch of fresh cilantro, rinsed well and chopped
Lime juice (approx. 2 teaspoons, or whatever comes out of half of a lime)
Salt
Fresh mozzarella
Two baked sweet potatoes

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil and lime juice. Add the jalapeño, garlic, most of the cilantro, and salt to taste.  Whisk together, and then spoon a little bit over the baked sweet potatoes, which  should be split and warm. Shred some of the mozzarella over the top using your hands (I prefer the ovolini size that come packed in water), then spoon over more of the topping and the rest of the chopped cilantro as garnish.

*Notes: I used lemon instead of lime because that’s what I had.  It worked fine, but lime is a bit better. Some chopped spring onions provided a little extra garnish.  This is especially good with a side of steamed mustard greens or kale, black eyes peas, or salad.