My Favourite Guacamole and Pico de Gallo

Sometimes I wonder who I love more – my guacamole or my husband? I raise one pondering eyebrow and make him a bowl. It’s a labour of love as I chop the fragrant cilantro, juice the sweet, tangy lime, and mellow as I mash the creamy avocado. As soon as it’s ready I feed my husband a scoop and watch him swoon…and then I know it’s him I love the most, of course! Hey, does he love my guacamole more than he loves me?

Guacamole

I used to mix my pico de gallo in with my guacamole but then I tasted the most delicious guacamole at La Cantina Mexicana in Streetsville. Since then, I’ve spent the rest of my guacamole-making days trying to replicate that smooth and luxurious, pure avocado dip that has a hit of garlic and is served with homemade tortilla chips and salsa on the side. Now I focus on the avocado and don’t get watered down by the tomatoes. Use firm but ripe Haas avocados; make sure the stem end yields to the gentle pressure of your thumb.

I prefer to serve my pico de gallo on the side; it’s easy to whip up since it uses some of the same ingredients. To have enough cilantro for both recipes, buy one large or two small bunches. I don’t use fresh jalapeno because I find the raw, crunchy bite of heat too jarring in a guacamole or pico de gallo. Green Jalapeño Pepper Tabasco Sauce gives me the flavour and heat I am looking for (and I ain’t ashamed to admit it) but switch out for the classic, fresh jalapeno if you like.

Guacamole

Makes 2 cups

This recipe is as close as I’ve come to the one we love at Cantina Mexicana. The guacamole can be made a few hours ahead, covered with plastic wrapped pressed on to the surface of the guacamole, and refrigerated.

Because the limes vary in size and taste buds vary in acidity tolerance, only add about two thirds of the lime juice initially; then taste the guacamole and add more juice as desired (I like to use it all). To get the most juice out of your limes, place your hand over the whole lime and lean down while rolling it around to soften it before you cut it open.

Ingredients:

3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 clove of garlic
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Few dashes of hot sauce (preferably Green Jalapeño Pepper Tabasco Sauce)
Juice of 1 ½ limes
3 Haas avocados, firm but ripe

Accompaniment:

Tortilla chips

Directions:

  1. Mince and mash garlic in the salt to achieve a purée; add to medium bowl.
  2. Add the cilantro leaves and a few dashes of hot sauce. Add about two thirds of the lime juice.
  3. Slice avocados in half; remove pit and discard. Empty pulp into bowl.
  4. For chunky guacamole, mash the avocado with a potato masher until you achieve desired consistency. For smooth guacamole, purée with an immersion blender.
  5. Taste and add more lime juice or hot sauce if desired.
  6. Serve with tortilla chips for scooping.

 

Pico_de_Gallo

Pico de Gallo

Makes 1 cup

My Spanish sister-in-law, Marie, converted me from jarred salsa to fresh pico de gallo with the spicy and refreshing pico de gallo she lovingly prepares for our clan when we gather at her pool in the summer. It’s a real treat; your guests will feel the love. Pico de gallo can be made up to a few hours before serving; any longer and the tomatoes breakdown and release too much of their juices.

To prevent my pico de gallo from becoming too watery, I’ve tried seeding my tomatoes first but the tomatoes lost some of their flavour and broke down too much. I also tried a technique I read about on the internet: chopping the tomatoes whole (including the seeds), placing them in a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl, sprinkling them with salt, and leaving them to drain for about 30 minutes. But the results lacked a fresh tomato flavour, tasted bitter, and had a weird texture. So I just dice up the whole tomato, seeds and all, and love my pico de gallo for what it is: juicy and flavourful.

Use the ripest, locally-grown or homegrown tomatoes you can get your hands on – it doesn’t matter what size, along as you end up with 1 cup of diced tomato. If it is not tomato season, use roma tomatoes.

Ingredients:

1 cup diced ripe tomatoes (locally-grown or roma tomatoes)
½ cup minced white onion
2/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Several dashes of Green Jalapeño Pepper Tabasco Sauce
Juice of ½ lime
½ teaspoon coarse salt

Directions:

  1. Add tomatoes to a medium, non-reactive bowl.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and toss gently.
  3. Let rest for 15 minutes and then serve with tortilla chips for scooping or cover in an airtight container and refrigerate up to a few hours.
 
 
Cantina Mexicana
277 Queen St. South
Mississauga, Ontario L5M 1L9
 
Telephone: 905-813-1992
Website: www.cantinamexicana.com
 

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Exotic Summer Hors d’Oeuvre and Aperitif: Merguez and Arak

Here is a simple but exotic little hors d’oeuvre and apéritif duo to spice up your summer dinner party: North African Merguez Sausage Bites and Lebanese Arak.

Merguez sausages are warmly spiced with harissa (a paste made from red chili peppers) and flavoured with fragrant coriander, cumin, fennel, paprika, hints of cinnamon, and garlic. I buy my merguez sausages from Adonis; their version is part lamb, part beef, and really tasty.

A garnish of Torshi Lift looks spectacular on the platter. Torshi Lift is a crunchy pickled turnip served before a meal or with grilled meats. Torshi means sour and lift is the Arabic word for turnip. The bright pink colour comes from adding beets to the pickling process. Second only to the recipe my father-in-law used to make, Adonis sells the best Torshi Lift that I have tasted in our region (ask for them at the olive counter).

Merguez_Sausage

Merguez Sausage Bites:

  1. Grill whole merguez sausages slowly over indirect heat first and then for a few moments over direct heat, until fully cooked.
  2. Let rest, and then slice thickly on the diagonal. Skewer two or three together pieces together on cocktail picks. Garnish the platter with picked turnip.

The perfect apéritif to serve with the merguez is Arak: a Middle Eastern, anise-flavoured, distilled alcohol similar to French Pastis but unsweetened. The anise in the Arak will pair well with the fennel notes in the sausage. But watch out, Arak is 50% alcohol. Click here for a link to the Arak my husband recommends, available at LCBO Vintages.

How to Serve Arak:

  1. Take a small, narrow glass (like a Moroccan tea glass), pour in one ounce of Arak and then two ounces of cold water. The combination will turn milky-white. Then add one ice cube (optional). Arak is extremely potent so just have one ounce or they may catch you belly dancing on the table. It is meant to awaken your appetite before the meal; too much Arak will dull it.
Arak

I found these vintage Moroccan tea glasses at Curries Music & Antiques in Gravenhurst, Ontario.

 

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Postcards from Montreal: Solémer Restaurant & Fish Market

When in Montreal, we love to gather with family at Restaurant Solémer & Poissonnerie. An abundance of meze dishes get passed around our table (small servings of Lebanese appetizers, salads, and seafood) and wine flows freely. We work our way toward grilled meats or grilled or fried fish that we choose from the wide selection of fresh fish available in the attached fish market. Often the restaurant treats our family to sweet, juicy watermelon to finish our meal (we are regulars here).

Restaurant_Solemer

Treasures from the sea, prepared Mediterranean-style: Calamari, deep-fried, light and crispy. Smoky-sweet Grilled Octopus, dressed in lemon, garlic, oregano, and olive oil. Shrimps Provencal (lemon, garlic butter, and coriander).

Restaurant Solemer

Best Fattouche I have ever had: fresh, crisp vegetables, ripe tomato, and crunchy pita, dressed in a well-balanced vinaigrette brightened with lemon, sumac, and a punch of garlic. They’ve got my number. My son’s favourite, Kebbe Nayeh: Lebanese-style Steak Tartare (fresh, minced raw beef mixed with bulgur, puréed onion, and a touch of spice) served with fresh mint, olive oil, and raw onion for scooping. My husband says it puts Steak Tartare to shame.

Restaurant_Solemer

Grilled Shish Kebab: tender yet oh so flavourful, marinated filet mignon. Served with really good fries, julienned vegetables, and tomato-brushed pita. Flavourful Brown Rice with Nuts. Fried Basa personally selected from the fish market: delicately flavoured white fish in light, crispy coating. Served with deep-fried pita.

Don’t forget the Tarator Sauce (ground sesame seed sauce, also known as Tahina), Hummus (puréed chickpeas, sesame paste, lemon, garlic) and Baba Ghannouj (smoky, grilled eggplant mashed with sesame paste, lemon, garlic).

Restaurant Solémer & Poissonnerie
1805, Sauvé Ouest, Suite 101 (corner of l’Acadie)
Montréal (Québec) H4N 3B8
 
Telephone:  (514) 332-2255
Website: http://solemer.ca/en/
 
 
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Day Tripping: The Glen Oven Café in Glen Williams

I have a favourite little spot I like to wander off to come summertime. I didn’t even know it existed until my friends brought me there one happy afternoon. Glen Williams is a peaceful little hamlet hidden amongst the trees of the meandering Credit River Valley, in the outskirts of Georgetown. The tree-lined street is dotted with just a handful of heritage buildings and homes. It is so quiet you can hear the crickets chirping.

Glen_Oven_Cafe

Walk onto the porch of the Glen Oven Café and the regulars give you a nod as if to agree “yep, there is something so serene about this place”. Feel welcome in a modest but charming interior filled with vintage fine china tea cups, little British flags, a few tables, a couple of arm chairs, and a little wood stove.

Glen_Oven_Cafe_Bakery

Order at the counter. Choose from quiche, salad, soup, or sandwiches – all lovingly made from scratch (even the bread) with quality, wholesome ingredients. Everything I have tried has been delicious. My favourite is the Roasted Veggie sandwich: sweet potato, parsnip, red peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and red onion all roasted until tender and slightly caramelized then piled on billowing homemade bread spread with creamy chèvre.

Roasted_Veg_Sandwich_Glen_Oven

Buy a loaf of bread to take home. This is the home of the Hearty Seed Bread, my son’s favourite flax seed bread; I have to hide it or he will polish off the whole loaf in one day. My friend loves the Whole Wheat Muesli Bread, a breakfast bread with raisins, cranberries, walnuts, and sunflower seeds. Don’t even try to resist the baking displayed in the counter – it is definitely worth giving into. I love the Lemon Squares the most: rich, buttery shortbread crust covered with a luscious layer of tart lemon filling.

Order tea: a pot and a delightful vintage tea cup will arrive at your table with the rest of your order.

Glen_Oven_Cafe_Lunch

Eat inside or better yet, relax in the shade of the big trees on the outdoor porch. Leaves dancing in the gentle breeze on a warm, sunny day – it just feels so summery, so carefree.

Glen_Oven_Cafe

Allow enough time to poke in the antique book shop (Reeve & Clarke Antiquarian), marvel at the glassblowing (Glen Williams Glass), and shop for one-of-a-kind art by Canadian artists (Williams Mill Visual Art Centre), or get lost in booth after booth of vintage treasures at the Beaumont Mill Antiques & Collectibles Market. A stroll beside the tranquil Credit River is always good for the soul (Glen Williams Park).

The Glen Oven Café
520 Main Street
Glen Williams, ON L7G 3S8
 
Telephone: 905-873-0940
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheGlenOvenCafe?fref=ts

 

The Glen Oven Café has a second location in historic downtown Georgetown, The Glen Oven Tea Room. It offers lunch and afternoon tea. Catering available.

The Glen Oven Tea Room
98 Main St S,
Georgetown, ON L7G 3E4
 
Telephone: 289-891-8833
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theglenoventearoom?fref=ts
 
 

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Easy Summer Entertaining: Spieducci from Aurora Meat & Cheese

Looking for easy but fabulous finger food nibbles to serve at your next summer party? Spoil your guests with a real Italian treat: grilled skewers of fresh Ontario Lamb Spieducci from Aurora Meat and Cheese. So succulent, so flavourful; these are the best spieducci I’ve ever eaten.

Aurora_Lamb_Spieduci

Season both sides of the lamb skewers with freshly ground black pepper and grill them over low heat for just a minute or two on both sides (they are thin); then sprinkle with crunchy sea salt and serve hot on a platter garnished with baby arugula.

Aurora sells special spieducci grills that prevent the wooden skewers from burning on the ends. We don’t own a spieducci grill but get excellent results grilling our spieducci straight on the barbeque. The ends of our skewers get a little charred but the meat is mouth-watering.

Aurora Meat and Cheese was founded in Mississauga in 1977 by Domenico Vincenzo Cristiano, a fourth generation butcher from Italy.  The family continues to operate the business under the vision, values, and traditions set forth by Domenico in a modern, expanded store. Aurora offers a wide variety of fresh meat, sausage, cheese, deli products, and gourmet specialty food products. Italian hot table and catering available. Modern setting, years of experience, friendly service, and fresh, quality products.

Want to round out the menu, Italian style? My Tomato Bocconcini Basil Skewers are the perfect finger food to serve alongside the spieducci.

Tomato_Bocconcini_Skewers

Aurora Meat and Cheese
3661 Dixie Road
Mississauga, Ontario
L4Y 2B3
 
Telephone: 905-624-1101 and 905-624-8383
Website: http://www.aurorameat.ca/index.html
 
 

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