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Wednesday, July 21, 2010


A Chilean Tradition:

In four years and one summer I never had a bad roommate. In fact, I never even had a roommate I couldn't stand sleeping near much less hanging out with or cooking for. Each and every semester provided new culinary memories. My junior year I moved into an apartment with three other girls, a substantial kitchen and my very first dishwasher *glorious raptures*. The first two straight week saw us eating little more than cereal or a grilled cheese cooked on a faulty stove burner; not our fault. By senior year though, all manner of new dishes were cropping up in our kitchen.

I first came across this recipe for "pebre" after one of my roommates made a trip to Chile to visit family. When she came back she was spooning pebre over everything and anything she could find. (Once you've tasted this recipe you'll know why). I made this variation from a shred of paper I found in a kitchen drawer upon moving out and have been muddling out the proportions ever since. This version makes about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of pebre depending on the amount of cilantro or tomato. Because pebre is such a staple food in Chile almost every family, restaurant or street vendor has their own recipe so don't feel like you need to follow my proportions to the letter. If you like less heat use less chili, etc. etc. Try it spooned over grilled meat of wondrous varieties (chicken, white fish, beef or pork), hot dogs, even toasted slices of some crispy delicious loaf of bread. I've made two batches in the past week and scarfed it down (literally) with everything from scrambled eggs, salmon to plain old blue corn tortilla chips. Think of it like ketchup but way, way better. The bite of the fresh garlic paired with the sweet and sour lime juice takes our idea of "salsa" to a whole new level. Once you've had Pebre you won't go back to any old slab-shod jar.

Preparing the pebre the night before allows the flavors to really meld and deepen. For less kick-kick-punch action make it just before serving. My second batch seasoned for about 24 hours before being mixed up with the oil, juice and vinegar and it most certainly gave us a run for our chips. Making the pebre too far in advance could result in sad and broken down tomatoes so don't make the dish more than 24 hours in advance.

Notes: Always be sure to wash your cilantro. A single "pre-washed" package would be sufficient for a single batch. I, personally, don't buy the loose bundles after seeing some disturbing news reports. To wash: fill a deep bowl with cold water and set the cilantro on the surface, giving it a good swish. Any sand should fall to the bottom. Scoop the cilantro out gently, trying not to disturb the sediments. Layer the cilantro between paper towels to dry thoroughly. Store in a paper towel, herb savor or use immediately. Packaged herbs are usually $2-3 a package so if you tend to use a lot of something in particular (say cilantro) you might think about investing in a plant. Of course, a plant requires some maintenance so bear that in mind.

I used jalapenos because they were readily available. Most any green chili pepper will work but I would not suggest a bell pepper. To reduce the heat seed the pepper: cut off the top and split the pepper lengthwise, removing the seeds and ribs with a small spoon or just your fingers. Don't forget to roll your lime(s) on the counter before you juice them to release the good stuff. Lime happens to be my second favorite citrus so I was a little liberal with it, per the usual.

Makes 1 - 1 1/2 cups

1 large tomato, seeded and diced
1 bunch (or box) of cilantro
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 1/2 green chili peppers (1 for less heat, 1 1/2-2 for more)
1 lime
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1. Wash and dry your tomato, chili pepper and cilantro.
2. Cut the tomato in half, "hamburger" style, and squeeze gently over the trashcan or a bowl to remove some of the seeds. This will keep your pebre from being too watery.
3. Chop the tomato and add to a large bowl. Seed and chop the chili pepper and add to the tomatoes.
4. Smash two cloves of garlic on your cutting board, removing the skins. Finely chop the garlic then add it to the tomato mixture. Stir in the salt.
5. I tear my cilantro but you could chop it as well. To chop: hold the bunch of cilantro by the stem, leaves pointing down towards your cutting board. Run your knife along the stems in a gentle but swift chopping motion to remove most of the leaves from their stems. Discard remaining stems and chop before adding to the tomato mixture.
6. If you are preparing the cilantro in advance cover your dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate until almost ready to serve. If not, cut and juice your lime and add it to the tomato mixture along with the olive oil and vinegar. Check for seasoning and add more salt if needed.
7. Stir and serve.

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