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Grilled Asparagus with Creamy Pasilla Chile
2 Tbs olive oil (plus a little more for the pasilla and asparagus)
1 medium white onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
3 medium (about 1 ounce total) dried pasilla (negro) chiles, stemmed and seeded
1/2 cup Mexican crema or crème fraiche
1 tsp vinegar (practically any kind will work here, though a dark one like balsamic will underscore the pasilla flavor)
1 large bunch (about 1 pound) asparagus
In a medium (3-quart) saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil, then add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft and richly golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring nearly constantly, for a minute or so, until soft and very aromatic. While the onion is cooking, use a pair of kitchen scissors (or a sharp knife) to cut the pasilla chiles crosswise into thin strips no wider than about 1/4 inch. When the onion-garlic mixture is ready, use a slotted spoon to scoop half of it into a blender jar, the other half into a small bowl, leaving behind as much oil as possible. Add more oil to the pan if necessary to coat the bottom nicely and return to medium heat. Add the chile strips and cook, stirring non-stop, until the chiles have changed color (the interior will lighten noticeably) and they have filled your kitchen with their distinctive toasty aroma, about 30 seconds. Too much toasting will yield bitterness in the sauce; too little toasting won’t allow these chiles to give all they have. Scoop half the toasted chiles into the blender, the other half in the bowl with the onions. Add the crema or crème fraiche to the blender and blend until completely smooth—this will take a minute or two. Scrape your pasilla crema back into the saucepan, stir in about 1 Tablespoon water to give it an easily spoonable consistency, taste and season with salt, usually about ¼ teaspoon. Stir the vinegar into the onion mixture in the bowl, taste and season with a sprinkling of salt. When you’re ready to serve, heat a gas grill (or grill pan) to medium or light a charcoal fire and let it burn until medium hot. Trim the bottom of the asparagus: you can cut off the woody ends with a knife, but my standard method is to hold each spear firmly between my two hands and gently bend it until it snaps, which will be exactly at the point where the asparagus starts being really tender (I save the bottoms to blend into soup). Brush or spray the asparagus tops with oil, sprinkle with salt, and grill, turning regularly, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. While the asparagus is cooking, warm the sauce over medium-low heat. Divide the grilled asparagus among 4 plates, spoon the sauce over the asparagus, then sprinkle with the pasilla-onion mixture and you’re ready to serve.
Spicy Chipotle Eggplant with Black Beans
2 pounds eggplant (smaller varieties like Japanese, Chinese or graffiti work best)
2 tablespoons olive oil
9 tablespoons Sweet-Sour Dark Chipotle Seasoning (below)
2 cups seasoned black beans with enough broth to cover (if you’re using canned beans, you’ll need two 15-ounce cans, though you’ll have some left over; use all of the liquid in the cans, but be aware that bean sauce made from canned beans won’t be as dark as one made from home-cooked beans)
A few tablespoons of crumbled Mexican queso fresco or other fresh cheeses, like goat or feta
Handful of cilantro
½ cup Mexican crema or crème fraiche (or sour cream or Greek yogurt thinned with a little milk), for serving
Turn on the oven to 425 degrees and adjust the shelf to the middle level. Trim the stem end from the eggplants and cut them into rounds about ½-inch thick. (If any are larger than a couple of inches in diameter, cut them into half-moons.) Scoop them into a bowl, drizzle them with the oil and about 6 tablespoons of the seasoning, toss to coat evenly, then spread onto a rimmed, lightly oiled baking sheet. Slide into the oven and roast, turning periodically with a metal spatula, until the slices are beginning to brown and are soft throughout, about 20 minutes.
While the eggplant is roasting, measure the beans (including their liquid) into a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth, adding a little more bean broth (or water) if necessary to get them to move through the blades. Scrape into a small (1- to 2-quart) saucepan and stir in enough bean broth or water to give the puree the consistency of a cream soup, usually about ¼ cup. Stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons of the seasoning and warm over medium-low heat. Taste and season with salt if you think it needs it (depending on the saltiness of the beans; it may not).
When the eggplant is ready, spoon some of the warm sauce on each dinner plate and top with a portion of eggplant. Sprinkle with the queso fresco (or one of its stand-ins), some cilantro and a drizzle of crema (or one of its stand-ins), and you’re ready to eat.
For the Sweet-Sour Dark Chipotle Seasoning:
Place 2 cans chipotle chiles en adobo (canning liquid and all), 2 tablespoons molasses, 1/4 cup balsamic or sweet sherry vinegar, 1/4 cup (packed) brown sugar and 1/2 cup water in a blender and process until smooth. Scrape into a small saucepan set over medium heat and bring to a brisk simmer, then turn the heat to medium-low and continue simmering, stirring regularly, until the mixture is the consistency of tomato past, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 cup soy sauce. If necessary, add some water, a splash at a time, until the salsa is the consistency of runny ketchup. Cool, taste and season with salt; it may not need any, depending on the saltiness of your soy sauce.