Pimiento Cheese {Ten Years in New York}

Pimiento CheeseAs of today, I have been a resident of New York City for ten years.

TEN YEARS.

A decade.

Long enough that I can officially call myself a New Yorker without anyone trying to argue with me. (There are rules.)

Pimiento CheeseI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—living in New York is not for the faint of heart. If you want to live here, prepare to work all the time and spend all your money on rent for an apartment that would be sub-$1,500 anywhere else. And for that matter, prepare to feel like you are never in that expensive closet that you call home. Prepare to have moments where you wonder why you ever thought it would be a good idea to move here.

But also, prepare to meet some seriously amazing people.

Photo by Arnab Chatterjee.
Prepare to end up doing work that is far beyond your wildest expectations.

Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Victor Ochen.
Prepare to have moments where you just stop in your tracks and go “Oh my gosh—I get to live here.” Ten years in, I still have those.

Most of all, prepare to appreciate your roots. I couldn’t wait to get out of Texas ten years ago. I had decided that I was *done* with all things Texan (beyond family and friends, of course). But a funny thing happened when I moved to New York—I developed Texas pride.

Ten years out, I have a collection of “Don’t Mess with Texas” t-shirts. I am a diehard Texas Rangers baseball fan. If I find out that there’s another displaced Texan in the room, I want to meet them—I need someone to commiserate with about the lack of decent barbecue in this city.

Pimiento CheeseSpeaking of barbecue, I had no idea how much I would miss the cuisine of my native state. As you may have noticed, I’ve spent ample time making salsa, guacamole, and the best damn Enchiladas Suizas you’ll find in Downtown Brooklyn. But I didn’t grow up on an all-Tex-Mex diet.

Pimiento CheeseToday’s recipe, Pimiento Cheese (pronounced “puh-men-uh cheese”), was a staple in my house growing up. My mom put it on tea sandwiches and stuffed it into celery with great frequency…and I totally hated it. Pimiento Cheese is made primarily of cheese and mayonnaise, two things I refused to eat as a child. But as I have grown up, I’ve developed a taste for this southern staple. Unlike Texas, Pimiento Cheese is not available in grocery stores up here, but that’s totally fine by me. Homemade is always better.

Pimiento CheesePimiento CheeseMy Pimiento Cheese recipe calls for minced serrano peppers in addition to the requisite extra sharp cheddar, mayonnaise, and sweet pimientos. This spicy addition, along with some garlic and a hefty dose of cracked black pepper, brings this classic dip over the top. It’s just…everything. Literally. I mean, it’s salty, spicy, creamy, sweet, great on crackers or stuffed into celery, and makes a killer sandwich spread. I’m pretty sure it’d be great in an omelet, too.

Pimiento CheeseBasically, I’m saying that Pimiento Cheese is the perfect food. And while I may officially be a New Yorker now, I have no intention of giving up this little part of Texas.Pimiento Cheese

Pimiento Cheese
makes about 2 cups

8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 4 ounce jar pimientos* or roasted red peppers
1 clove garlic
1-2 serrano peppers, seeded (if desired)
1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1/4-1/3 cup (4-5 tablespoons) mayonnaise

For Serving:
celery
crackers

Grate the cheese on the large-holed side of a box grater. Transfer to a small mixing bowl.

Drain the pimientos and blot with paper towels. Mince pimientos, followed by garlic and serrano pepper(s). Transfer to the mixing bowl. Add black pepper and 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) mayonnaise. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to fold it all together. If desired, add more mayonnaise by the tablespoon until the desired consistency is reached.

Transfer to a serving bowl and press plastic wrap to the surface. Refrigerate for about an hour before serving with celery or crackers. Pimiento Cheese may also be used as a sandwich spread.

Leftovers will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Note:

I find pimientos with the shelf-stable pickles or on the international/Goya aisle at my grocery store.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

 New York City is not the place to move if you’re a salsa snob.

I should know. I’ve lived here almost nine years and have yet to find a Mexican restaurant whose salsa is not obviously from a jar. The worst experiences have been one that was mostly ketchup and Tabasco, and another that contained basil.*

*Note to Mexican restaurants everywhere: salsa and marinara are not interchangeable. 

Luckily for me, I love to cook, so I have not been doomed to only eat subpar salsa for my tenure in NYC. I’ve learned to make several different varieties–my red Restaurant-Style Salsa is the favorite among my friends. I could definitely make that and some tostadas for Cinco de Mayo and have a perfectly good dinner. But lately, I’ve been seeing gorgeous green tomatillos at my favorite vegetable market, and they are just begging to be made into salsa. Being a total salsa fiend, I am happy to oblige. 

This Roasted Tomatillo Salsa is my favorite salsa ever. It’s a little sour from the tomatillos (but not overly so) with pops of freshness from the cilantro and lime, and has a rich, smooth texture. Thick and chunky salsa is not my style. 

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa takes slightly more work than the Restaurant-Style Salsa, but it’s still a breeze. Most of the 35 minute prep time is just waiting for everything to roast and cool, so it really is a snap. 

  Slice some fresh tomatillos in half and place them on a baking sheet with half an onion, two fresh jalapeños, and a couple of cloves of unpeeled fresh garlic. Drizzle everything with olive oil and roast it in a 425F oven for about twenty minutes. Let the vegetables cool for ten minutes, squeeze the soft garlic from its peels, and blitz everything in a food processor (or high-powered blender) with some fresh cilantro, lime juice, and salt. That’s it! This salsa is hardly any work at all, and is infinitely better than any prepared salsa you can imagine. 

  Serve Roasted Tomatillo Salsa with nachos, quesadillas, tacos, tostadas, or tortilla chips. Use it as the base for an amazing chicken soup! Pour it over chicken enchiladas before they go in the oven. Spoon it over eggs scrambled with tortillas and cheese and have migas for breakfast <– did that yesterday. Highly recommend.

Any way you serve it, this Roasted Tomatillo Salsa will be a new favorite. 

 Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
makes about 2 cups

1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatillos,* husked and rinsed
1-2 fresh jalapeño peppers, stems removed
1/2 medium white onion, peeled
2 cloves garlic, not peeled
olive oil, for drizzling
1/3-1/2 cup fresh cilantro, washed
juice of 1 lime
1/2-3/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

Slice tomatillos in half. Slice jalapeños in half, and seed if desired. Place on baking sheet along with onion and garlic. Drizzle all vegetables with olive oil. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until starting to brown. Let cool ten minutes.

Squeeze garlic out of its skins. Place roasted vegetables in the bowl of a food processor or high-powered blender. Add cilantro, lime, and salt. Purée until smooth.

Serve immediately, or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to five days.

Note:

Tomatillos and green tomatoes are not interchangeable.