Gerardo Gonzalez got here to cooking via birria — a meaty stew usually piled into tacos and quesadillas — however the model that intrigued him, when he’d occurred upon a recipe for it on-line, was meatless and as a substitute known as for dried hibiscus flowers. He was already accustomed to the ingredient, often called flor de jamaica in Mexican kitchens and sorrel in West Indian ones, from having grown up consuming agua de jamaica, an iced natural tea, in his native San Diego, however he discovered that, when soaked and simmered in inventory, the purple blooms grew to become plump and slack, their taste without delay floral and earthy.
Since then, the chef, 38, previously of El Rey and Lalito in downtown Manhattan and now the director of meals and tradition on the Palm Heights lodge on Grand Cayman, has sought all types of savory functions for the flower, whether or not in a brilliant chutney — served with inexperienced mole and feta for a pop-up on the now-shuttered Brooklyn restaurant Saltie — or stuffed, alongside chorizo, into Spanish cuttlefish. He’s additionally continued to tinker with that authentic birria recipe, regardless of being met with skepticism by one member of his Mexican-American household. “I used to be explaining to my grandmother which you can make birria with hibiscus flowers, and he or she was very adamant that you might not eat the flower at all,” says Gonzalez with amusing. Undeterred, he was completely happy to search out that it’s a plant he should buy recent on Grand Cayman, the place sorrel drink — a deep wine-purple brew of sorrel, ginger, cinnamon and sugar, served chilly and sometimes spiked with rum — is especially widespread through the winter holidays.
The present iteration of Gonzalez’s vegetarian (and vegan) birria is reasonably borschtlike. He stews the hibiscus in a vegetable inventory bolstered with a tea bag, beer and brûléed citrus to present the liquid a depth and physique that doesn’t mimic, however as a substitute affords an alternative choice to, the extra conventional beef broth. And he tops the top outcome with a silky cashew crema in lieu of bitter cream. It’s, partly, a homage to the numerous meals that, till leaving New York Metropolis in 2018, Gonzalez loved on the longstanding East Village kosher restaurant B&H Dairy, a spot that formed numerous his desirous about meals service. “There’s one thing in regards to the counter and the dynamic of somebody making your meals in entrance of you, somebody who remembers your identify despite the fact that you haven’t been there in seven years,” he says. “Any time I stray from that, when I’ve to work in a kitchen that’s extra formal, I feel, Why am I doing this? Actually I simply need to work together with individuals and prepare dinner for them.”
That’s exactly what he did when Grand Cayman shut its borders on account of the pandemic final March, and Gonzalez started spending most of his time with a small group of buddies who had been visiting the island and ended up staying put. “It’s bizarre to look again on that form of factor fondly,” he says, “nevertheless it was a really particular second.” Primarily, the disaster created a kind of household that, in between getting ready meals for native church buildings and Meals on Wheels, would prepare dinner and eat collectively. Amongst its members had been Angela Dimayuga, who was testing recipes for her upcoming Filipinx cookbook; Jake Brodsky, the manager chef on the Palm Heights eating places Tillies and Paradise Pizza; Pierre Serrão and Jon Grey of Ghetto Gastro; and the lodge’s inventive director, Gabriela Khalil. “We did all these themed dinners, like Orthodox Easter or excessive tea,” says Gonzalez. “It was very communal and cinematic — we’d get all dressed up and eat at this abandoned lodge.” One of many dishes the group loved collectively was Gonzalez’s vegan borscht, served chilled. “Soup amongst buddies is a pleasant vibe,” says Gonzalez. “It feels healthful and intimate, with everybody consuming from the identical pot.”
Gerardo Gonzalez’s Flor De Jamaica Soup — or Chilled Hibiscus Borscht
Serves 8 to 10
Cashew Crema Substances:
1. In a big pot, warmth the olive oil over medium-high warmth. Slice the orange into 4 thick slices and the lemon into 3 thick slices, eradicating any loosened seeds. Place the citrus slices flat on the underside of the pot, caramelizing them to get a pleasant brûlée. Cut back to medium warmth. As soon as the citrus has blackened, take away the lemon slices and add the onions over medium-low warmth.
2. Season and slowly sweat the onions with the orange slices. After a couple of minutes, the onions will go translucent whereas choosing up the colour of the citrus bits on the backside of the pot. As soon as the onions are tender, add the minced garlic and sweat till tender.
3. Repeat this course of with every vegetable within the order wherein they’re listed above, including them separately and seasoning with salt with each new addition. As soon as all of the greens are properly softened and blended, add the turmeric, bay leaf and hibiscus. Cook dinner till the flowers are additionally softened, then add the beer and let it cut back till the hibiscus has absorbed most of it.
4. Add the vegetable inventory, deliver it to a boil after which cut back to a medium simmer. Put cowl on pot and let it simmer for 25 to half-hour, stirring sometimes and including the Earl Gray tea bag within the final 5 minutes. Style and, if wanted, end with salt. Switch dish to an ice bathtub to sit back, then place it within the fridge to be served later.
5. For the cashew crema, soak entire uncooked cashews in water in a single day. The subsequent day, take away half of the soaking liquid. Place the soaked cashews and remaining liquid in a high-speed blender and add the vinegar. Mix on excessive warmth till absolutely emulsified, fluffy and easy.
6. Pour the soup right into a bowl with equal components greens and broth. Dollop the cashew crema within the middle, drizzle closely with ending oil and high with recent cracked pepper and enormous piles of recent picked dill stems and leaves. Serve very chilly.