Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Cilantro Kind of Morning

I'm awake again at an unholy hour.

Sometime after my son stopped tossing and turning, my father's buzzer went off to stop icing his back. Then the cat mewed at my door. Then father left the buzzer on and I got up to turn it off. I realized I was actually the only one awake in the house anymore, and decided going back to sleep was just silly. I was already out of bed. I was already awake. And I had this nagging need to post a recipe for cilantro pesto.

This is where my life has led. Cilantro pesto. I'm trying to let go of how obsessive that sounds. I got up before the crack of dawn to write a little post about cilantro pesto. I could be working on that book I've been planning for two years. I could be making scones. Or pie. I could find my beloved a job. Nope, gonna write about pesto.

You must understand, I think I don't really like pesto. Especially basil pesto. Or, I don't like it enough to make it myself. Or, I don't like the basil pesto I have made myself.

I made it recently and we talked about it. It was not so good: pasty, ugly, and practically imperfect in every way. Food just shouldn't be like that.

Then I made cilantro pesto. I looked up some recipes. I looked up some techniques. I bought the stuff and made it and my child was an angel the whole time. I made a yummy dinner to put it on. It was a summery evening and the family was gathering and I made a Morocco meets California dinner with pie for dessert. And I had a gorgeous pre-dinner beer (Pliny the Elder, try it!).

The second cilantro pesto meal.
Millet-bean burgers with curried veggies,
yogurt, and of course, cilantro pesto.

Ok, it almost went like that.

Actually, I was in a state of wretched anxiety all day. I planned too much. I planned too little. One hour before dinner was supposed to start I was walking down the street to the dinner house with a coconut cream pie, a bowl of cilantro pesto, and a tupperware of cooked wheat berries. That is what I had for "dinner." It had to be over a hundred degrees. The sky, as always here, was blue. The air was thick and particle-ladened from the dusty fields. The birds loved it, and were singing. The dog loved it and was sunning. The tomatoes loved it, and were ripened and waiting on the counter. I did not love it. I cursed the whole way.

My child had not been cooperative, and I had spent his naps making up the extras (the cilantro pesto, the coconut cream pie) and was scrambling last minute to make sure there would actually be something we could call dinner. I was stressed, sweating, and honestly, in tears.

It was, in a word, pathetic.

I had planned to make this cold Moroccan tomato soup and top it with the pesto. But no one in my family eats just tomato soup for dinner, and I knew there would be some hard feelings about it being cold. So I needed more. I planned a side of spiced wheat berry pilaf with golden raisins and zucchini. To my post-vegetarian sensibilities, this sounded fine. Light, but just fine and completely filling. I was going to have a salt and peppered yogurt too, just for cooling and creaminess. But few in the family eat this fare either. It was a bad decision.

I was walking and in tears and mulling over the circumstances: I made pesto as fast as I could, which, when you're chopping, not food processing, is slow. Slow Food is all the rage, and I'm supportive, but a psycho-mom like me who is still in denial of being a little too type-A still sometimes has difficulty relaxing into meditative circumstances. I also realized the Moroccan soup I planned was made by another frazzled soul (documented here). She doesn't seem to have succumbed, like I had, to utter self-pity and loathing. She got lazy with a recipe and made adjustments and apparently forgave herself for her culinary sins. She ended up with a fabulous soup. Then I take the recipe and I make it in a state of panic and woe: "No one will like it! No one will eat it! Or, worse--everyone will smile and be supportive but secretly loath me and my silly soup."

Drama. Woo, too early for drama.

Anyway, the circumstances were irreversible at that point. I had the pesto. I had the stupid pie. I was a silly, disorganized, and in-denial type A ex-vegetarian who liked the idea of cold tomato soup with pesto. I had already succumbed to an hour or so of hysteria, but I was getting over it. And then there was that beer. So good. (I spilled it all over my mother-in-law's leather couch.)

What be the moral of this story? Drink the beer while you're making the pesto. Because aside from the fabulous, fast, and perfect soup, the pesto is the thing worth making.

Cilantro Pesto

This recipe makes just enough for a dinner with four to six people. I do not suggest doubling. It is like manna from heaven: don't try to get too much, or it spoils. Practice some restraint and make a single batch, only enough for dinner. Meditate, like I did the second time I made it. Then you might, like me, end up enjoying the heat, if you have it. You might even, like me, enjoy yourself as you stand chopping for half an hour. The meditation could result in an even spirit, a new feeling of preparedness for the curry dinner to come, regardless of the fact that your parents don't like curry. You might even convert them. See, there is redemption in the pesto after all.

1 bunch cilantro, stemmed, about 1 1/2 cups
1 handful walnuts
2 garlic cloves
1/4-1/3 Jalapeno or Serrano pepper (optional)
juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime
1/4 teaspoon salt (or less, depending on how salty your salt is) I used grey sea salt
a few tablespoons oil: olive, walnut, or sunflower

Method (see pictures here): Take about a third of the cilantro and half of the walnuts. Chop. Add the pepper, garlic, and more cilantro. Chop. Add the rest of the walnuts and cilantro. Chop. What you end up with is a bunch of chopped pesto at various stages of maceration. This is good. Doing this will take about a half an hour, maybe less, maybe more. You know its done when you can press it all together in a loose cake. Place in a bowl and toss with lemon or lime juice and the salt. Mix well. Press down in the bowl and cover with oil. When you're ready to use it, stir in the oil. Serve atop bruschetta, Indian food, Moroccan, Mexican, or other dishes that need excitement, like scrambled eggs. Think condiment. Enjoy!

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