I’m between a proverbial rock and a hard place at the moment. Labor Day has come and gone, school has started, and people continue to argue that summer has unofficially ended. I do look forward to cooler days and crisp autumn nights, but I’m not completely ready to give up on summer.
I cherish these early September days that are still beach-worthy but have me reaching for a sweater in the evening. The tourist crowds have returned home and the streets of our little island aren’t quite so congested. The kids and I make our late afternoon runs to the beach for a swim then return home with just enough time to throw together dinner, play a few rounds of tag, and still get everyone tucked in before the sun goes down.
The problem is, I’m tired of making and eating hot dogs and burgers – the Labor Day parties pushed me past my burger limit! So, from here on out, I declare Labor Day to be the unofficial end of burger season. I’m moving on – and not to pumpkin-spiced everything. I’m not quite yearning for comfort food, but I still want what’s left of summer’s bounty.
What is it that lives between those two places? I’ve decide that it’s mojo verde.
I first encountered mojo verde (pronounced MO-ho VER-day) living on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, the Spanish territories located off northwest Africa. For centuries, Canarians have served variations of mojo (which simply means “sauce”) with their famous papas arrugadas, small, wrinkled-skin potatoes grown on the rocky, moonlike terrain of the islands.
Cooked in heavily salted water that forms a powdery layer on their skins, the potatoes are served whole with two types of dipping sauces – mojo verde and mojo picante. The combination of the salty, chewy skins dipped (or drowned) in these fresh and zesty concoctions is both light and hearty – and out-of-this-world amazing.
The striking flavor of the verde, or “green” sauce is my favorite, and so I share it with you. The eruption of flavor comes from fresh cilantro, blended with raw garlic, oil, and vinegar. The herbs bring color and freshness; the vinegar and garlic add zest; and a hint of cumin offers an earthy depth. It’s that simple. And better yet, the mixture can be served on just about anything.
I went the potato route after my burger binge, but rather than prepare the papas in the traditional way, I satisfied my autumnal hankerings by roasting small, red bliss potatoes in the oven, rendering a crispy, salty, outer skin. Then I smashed each potato with one quick stamp of a potato masher, which flattened them out and left more surface area to be smothered with that wonderful sauce.
What a combination! I got the fullness of the potatoes and the freshness of the mojo. As a bonus, leftover sauce can be dipped into, poured over, or tossed with whatever you cook the next day…and the next and the next… Well, you get the picture.
Mojo verde with smashed potatoes
serves 4 as a side or tapa
15-20 small, red bliss potatoes
4 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
1 large bunch of fresh cilantro
4-5 garlic cloves, peeled
3-4 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Set oven to 425° F. Rinse and dry the potatoes. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 3 teaspoons of salt. Toss to coat. Place potatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and roast for 20–25 minutes, or until insides are tender when pierced with a fork.
While potatoes cook, remove stalks from the cilantro and discard. Add cilantro leaves, garlic, vinegar, remaining 3 teaspoons of salt, and cumin to a food processor or blender and mix until finely chopped. Next, slowly add in 3/4 cup of olive oil, mixing the entire time. Note that the mojo should not be as thick as a pesto, but slightly soupy. Add vinegar 1 teaspoon at a time if the sauce is too thick. Taste the mixture and use more vinegar as needed.
When potatoes are done, use a potato masher to press down firmly on each one until the skin breaks and is slightly flattened. Pour the mojo verde mixture over the potatoes. Mojo verde can also be served over raw or cooked vegetables, grilled fish, chicken, or steak. Or, use it as a dip or pour over rice or other grains – there are endless possibilities!