Monday, September 8, 2014
I've always found the start of a new academic year to be an exciting time. Since I go out of my mind too easily when left to my own devices, I've always appreciated the school year better than the summer. The freedom and unstructured days and particularly the weeks and months on end without interaction with other souls is a bit too much for me to deal with. So, I prefer the busy-ness that the school year brings. I don't know, maybe some people just focus better amidst chaos rather than in quiet solitude?
The opening of a new school year brings with it lots of fun events that I love, too. The ritual of first-of-the-year all-department/hands-on-deck meetings, the handing out of syllabuses at first classes: like, what are we going to learn this year? What new knowledge are we going to discover? The meeting of new people, the catching up with old people. This year, I'm particularly excited about things like attending my first faculty meeting as ... well... faculty! I'm sure I'll grumble about meetings in a few months' time, but right now, it's new and shiny and an exciting hallmark of "leveling up."
One tradition coming back now that school is in session is our lab ladies teas! (Previous teas here and here.) A few of us are no longer in the same lab (or university, for that matter), but luckily, we've all managed to stick around within 50 miles or so of each other, so continuing the wonderful tradition of our teas is possible. It's so wonderful to get together with fellow female scientists outside the lab, catching up about our new positions, our research, our summer travels, our new school year plans. There's something so beautiful and joyous to me about hanging out with these incredibly brilliant people over a shared love of linguistics, tea, and delicious food. I can't help but to be inspired.
Our teas are potlucks, but we've gotten so comfortable that no one really ever announces what they're going to bring ahead of time. Yet, we always manage to end up with a delicious spread from savory to sweet, which I really appreciate. This time around, we had berry-lemon-pecan coffeecake, jam-mascarpone almond tarts, challah cheese rolls, drop biscuits with cabernet-macerated plums, black currant tea, chai tea, oolong tea. My contribution was a bit off the wall for a tea: roasted purple tomatillo gazpacho, with cotija cheese. I wanted to bring something to share that was really inspired by my new location, and Mexican food ingredients are a big thing around these parts. Until moving here, I'd never even see purple tomatillos before, and the cotija cheese is so much better here than what I'd had back in Berkeley. The gazpacho was so refreshing and satisfyingly savory (the roasting lending the flavor a nice bit of depth), with squeaky bites of crumbled cheese on top. The tomatillo taste is sort of reminiscent of a salsa, but nicely tempered by the coolness of the cucumber. ... perfect for these still-hot days at the beginning of the fall semester.
Read on for recipe....
Roasted purple tomatillo gazpacho
serves 6 to 8
40 to 50 small purple tomatillos, papery husks removed
1 large tomato (or 2 medium-sized ones)
4 Anaheim or banana (or other sweet) peppers
1 large jalapeño
1 large red onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 large cucumbers, peeled, de-seeded, and chopped
4 to 5 large cloves of garlic
1 cup cilantro leaves, plus more for serving
juice of 4 limes, freshly squeezed, plus extra lime wedges for serving
salt & fresh-ground pepper, to taste
cotija cheese, crumbled
1. Preheat the broiler. Place the tomatillos, tomato, sweet peppers, jalapeño, and red onion on a baking sheet and broil for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the tops of the vegetables are charred. Remove from the oven and let cool.
2. Once cool, remove and discard the stems of the peppers (sweet and jalapeño). Deseed the peppers, unless you want a gazpacho with a bit more kick to it, in which case, keep the jalapeño seeds.
3. Combine the broiled vegetables and whatever juice from the roasting pan in the bowl of a food processor. Add the cucumber chunks, garlic, cilantro, and lime juice. Process until the desired consistency for the soup is achieved (I like mine to be a slightly chunky puree, like thick salsa). Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Be careful not to oversalt because the cotija cheese will add a bit more saltiness.
4. Cover the soup and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight, for the flavors to meld. Serve cold, with crumbled cotija cheese, a wedge of lime, and a few sprigs of cilantro.