Curtido or encurtido is a type of lightly fermented cabbage relish. It is typical in Central American cuisine, and is usually made with cabbage, onions, carrots, oregano, and sometimes lime juice. On Costa Rican tables, it is also really common to see a mason jar of spicy, pickled vegetables (chilero) which you add to your meals. It is essentially the same as giardineria in Italy. Curtido is a bit similar to American coleslaw in function, but with spice and without mayonnaise. It is really fresh and crunchy and goes on so many dishes.
While you often serve it with pupusas, we add it to all kinds of dishes to provide an acidic, textured punch: stir fry, hot dogs, with fish, crab cakes or sandwiches.
You will need:
½ head green cabbage, cored and shredded
1 small white onion, sliced
2 medium carrots, grated
1 cup white vinegar
2 tsp lime juice
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups boiling water
In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, onion, and carrots. Pour the boiling water over the vegetables and toss. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Then, drain.
Combine the vinegar, lime juice, oregano, salt, and chiles** in a measuring cup. Pour over the slaw and toss to coat. Once thoroughly mixed, transfer the curtido and any leftover liquid in the bowl to an airtight container.
Chill for at least 20 minutes in the refrigerator or overnight for best results. This will keep for about 4-5 days.
I’ve been thinking a lot about food and improving health, in general. This is a great pastime when I am procrastinating and avoiding my day job, which if I am honest is pretty often. I am sure you are well versed in the benefits of vegetables, so I will spare you. But do consider adding more into your life, because they will make you feel better, and I think returning to basics has been really helpful this year for me, mentally and physically.
I was born in the early 1970’s – a time where convenience and heavily processed food was the norm. This really clashed with how my great grandmothers and grandmothers cooked. Now, we understand the wisdom of eating fresh produce, and food that is in season. But for decades, the idea of microwave or canned food persisted. Do you remember the weird, sadistic trend of disguising vegetables in foods that kids would eat, like brownies?
When I was a kid, I would go to my other friend’s houses, and would always be shocked by the lack of vegetables, or the ones at the table were drowning in velveeta, boiled within an inch of their life, or was simply canned corn thrown in a bowl, like a sad afterthought. The only exception was my neighbors from Taiwan, where beautifully cooked vegetables took center stage. I was fortunate to eat there on a regular basis, because their daughters were close in age to me.
While I don’t want to pass too much judgement (people were busy, it was a different time), I was very lucky to have good practices and habits set in place by family. My rule of thumb when kids were young and I was very busy was to always make sure at least a salad was on the table. Now, I try to have multiple servings and options, especially in spring and summer when vegetables are very fresh. But I do believe that many people aren’t quite sure what to make, or need some inspiration. So I thought it might do some good to list out favorite vegetables side-dishes for you to enjoy and get inspired by. Most of these derive from Italian and Spanish cooking, but the winter vegetables, I picked up from neighbors whose dishes I admired.
Quick and Easy:
Tomatoes & Feta – Heat oven to 350 degrees. Take campari tomatoes or slice a larger fresh tomato and place in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil & top with feta. Top with a little salt and ground pepper. Cook for 10-12 minutes.
Cucumbers & Feta – peel, deseed and slice two cucumbers. Slice 1/2 small red onion thinly. Add a little salt and pepper. Mix 2 Tbs red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil and some fresh mint leaves. Blend to emusify and drizzle over cucumbers and onions. Add feta or goat cheese. *If you don’t have mint, this is also lovely with fresh basil or oregano.
Quick Caprese – slice tomatoes and top with drizzle of a good olive oil and some basalmic vinegar. Grind a little salt and pepper on top. Add a slice of fresh mozzarella and some fresh basil. Top with basalmic glaze, if you have it.
Sliced cucumbers – Peel & Slice 3 peeled cucumbers wafer thin on a mandolin and thin put them in a strainer. Add salt and let it sit in the strainer for 10-20 minutes. Squeeze all moisture out of the cucumbers and place in a bowl with 2 minced cloves of garlic. Add 1 tbs of white vinegar and salt to taste. Dilute with a little water if needed. This is best served chilled.
Curtido – This is mostly as a side for pupusas, but we love to use it as an all purpose slaw for barbecue, hot dogs, or crabcakes. I often serve it with fish for some crunch and dimension. We also add chiles, but that is optional.
Romesco– this is probably my favorite staple, and is often in fridge and ready to go for eggs, bread, or fish.
Takes a little time, but worth it:
Greek salad– this is a favorite in our family, and we make it on a weekly basis in summer. We always bring it to cookouts.
Ciambotta– this is favorite of our children. They used to call it pizza vegetables, and had no idea they were eating so many vegetables.
Eggplants and honey– you have to soak the eggplants for an hour, but once they are ready. these are quick and easy to make.
Grilled chile-lime corn – Preheat your grill. Partially shuck your corn and remove the corn silk. Put the husks back and dunk in cold water for ten minutes. Shake water off, and rub corn with butter and if you want some spice i.e. chili-lime seasoning or elote seasoning. Place husks back over the cobs, and grill for ten minutes. If you don’t want spice, salt, pepper and paprika will do.
Caponata is an awesome summer dish native to Sicily and Southern Italy. It is a prime example of something that does not look very appealing, but tastes like gold. Ideally, you make a large batch and then keep in the fridge, to chill. It is far better chilled on a hot summer day. Spread it on your bread while you socialize with family and friends and wait for dinner. Although recipes vary, as all good ones do, I love it with a lot of capers.
This is a recipe that I have enjoyed over the years, but didn’t have family knowledge to know exactly how to make. Years ago, I tried out a few, and found this one was close to what I was looking for.
1 ½ pounds eggplant (1 large), roasted
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
3large garlic cloves, minced
2 red bell peppers, diced
Salt to taste
1 pound ripe tomatoes, (preferably romas), or 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes (in puree)
3 heaped tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pitted green olives
2 tablespoons plus a pinch of sugar
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (more to taste)
freshly ground pepper to taste
Roast the eggplant in the oven, allow to cool and chop coarsely.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet and add the onion and celery. Cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes, and add the garlic. Cook together for a minute, until the garlic begins to smell fragrant, and add the peppers and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring, until just about tender, about 8 minutes. Add another tablespoon of oil and the eggplant, and stir together for another 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. The eggplant will fall apart, which is fine. Season to taste.
Add the tomatoes to the pan with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of sugar. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan often, for 5 to 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and they smell fragrant. Add the capers, olives, remaining sugar, and vinegar. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are thoroughly tender and the mixture is quite thick, sweet, and fragrant. Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature. If possible, cover and chill overnight. Serve at room temperature.
I found this recipe in a Mediterranean cookbook, and decided to use it for our annual Oscar party. It was ideal because I was looking for a good dip to use that was vegetarian, but delicious. It is very versatile, and very easy to make. I would definitely use it as a spread for sandwiches, as well.
You will need:
2 red sweet peppers
1 onion cut into wedges
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup feta cheese
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp fresh oregano
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8-1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
Serve with pita chips, bread, or vegetables.
Instead of roasting the red peppers yourself, use one cup of purchased roasted red sweet peppers, drained
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Cut the peppers in half and deseed and destem. Place the pepper halvess cut side down on the sheet. Arrange the onions and garlic on the baking sheet with the pepper halves. Brush vegetables and garlic with some of the olive oil.
Roast the vegetables for 30 to 35 minutes until the pepper skins are blistered and the onion is tender. Remove them from the oven and wrap the vegetables up in foil. Let them stand for 15 minutes. Peel and discard the skins from the peppers.
Add the peppers and onions to a food processor or blender. Squeeze the garlic from peels into the blender, as well. Add the remaining olive oil, and all of the remaining ingredients. Blend/pulse until nearly smooth.
Here was an experiment that began with a delicious baguette and left over goat cheese. This turned out nicely and we paired it with some Chianti. For this particular situation, I chose to lay it out on a baguette, however slicing and toasting the bread into Crostini would be ideal for a party.
You will need:
8 oz goat cheese
Handful of spinach
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
2 tbs olive oil
1 cup mozzarella or fresh sliced mozzarella
Basalmic glaze (you can make it or buy it)* recipe below
Cut baguette in half and place on a baking pan. Preheat oven to 350. Brush with a little olive oil.
Heat olive oil on medium high heat. Cook down onions for at least 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook down until onions are caramelized (around 15-20 minutes total).
Add mozzarella on your bread. Add onions and tomatoes. Add goat cheese and fresh cracked pepper. Place in oven and cook for 8 -10 minutes. Step four:
While bread is cooking in the oven, slice spinach and gently sauté over medium heat using the same pan you used for the onions. Cook until tender and set aside.
Sprinkle spinach on top of the bread and drizzle with glaze. Enjoy!
To make a homeade balsamic glaze:
Bring 2 cups balsamic vinegar and 1/2 cup brown sugar to a boil and reduce heat for twenty minutes.