Friday, March 27, 2009

Grasslands Herb Salsa: Sweet Mongolia

In the past 20 months, we’ve featured recipes from India, Israel, Italy, and … well, many other countries beginning with the letter “I.” But it’s pretty rare we get to highlight food from outer Mongolia. Or rather: from a town located between Mongolia and Siberia called Manzhouli. (Thanks, Serious Eats!)

In olden days, we used “outer Mongolia” as a synonym for “very far away.” (Also see: Guam, Mars, East Bumble****.) Up until several hours ago, the only things I knew about the place is that it borders China, and my friend J was considering working on a Habitat for Humanity project there. (Which I’m fairly sure solicited a shocked “MONGOLIA?” from each and every person she told.)

But now, I’m a virtual expert. (Meaning: I looked at Wikipedia, which is a virtual reference guide in the computer sense.) For instance, did you know Mongolia has a Pegasus on its coat of arms? Or that it’s a parliamentary republic? Or that its national anthem is titled "Монгол улсын төрийн дуулал"? (Literally: “Welcome to Mongolia. Instead of Mints, You Will Find Mutton Jerky Under Your Hotel Pillow.”) Well, now you do.

Apparently, beyond noodles and awesome barbecue (which may or may not be an actual regional invention), Mongolians are also fond of roasted meats – especially goats and sheep. Turns out, they need the animal fat to survive the winters, which, being a total cold weather wussy, would cause me to perish in under 20 seconds.

This recipe, Grasslands Herb Salsa, is a topping for those roasted meats. It’s from a gorgeous cookbook called Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China, which was nominated for a James Beard Award earlier this week.

Essentially, it's a simple cilantro-based salsa that’s entirely unimpressive on its own, but morphs into something highly delicious when applied to pan-cooked chicken breast. In fact, The Boyfriend and I have eaten chicken two of the last four nights, just for an excuse to use the salsa. There are about two tablespoons left, so he should expect chicken on Saturday night, too. Poor guy.

Should you decide to make it yourself … actually, there’s not much to know. It’s only 12 calories a serving, and it’s simple enough that a kindergartener could make it. Granted, it would have to be a kindergartener who’s accustomed to food processing, but you get the picture.

Anyway, happy weekend, sweet readers. Hope your days off are as cool as Mongolia. Cooler, even.

Grasslands Herb Salsa
Makes about 3/4 cup, or enough for six chicken filets
Adapted from Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China

2 cups packed cilantro (a.k.a. coriander) leaves and stems
1/2 cup coarsely chopped scallions (white and tender green parts)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1) In a food processor, puree herbs and scallions until they're a "coarse paste." Add vinegar and salt. Pulse. Salt and pepper to taste. (I needed a little more salt.)

2) Pour into a small bowl. Allow guests/family to spoon their own salsa on to their meat.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
12 calories, 0 g fat, $0.37

2 cups packed cilantro (leaves and stems): 7 calories, 0.2 g fat, $1.50
1/2 cup coarsely chopped scallions (white and tender green parts): 16 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.22
2 tablespoons rice vinegar: 50 calories, 0 g fat, $0.48
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
TOTAL: 73 calories, 0.3 g fat, $2.21
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 12 calories, 0 g fat, $0.37


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