Welcome back to Dirty Work, our series of dispatches from the MUNCHIES Garden.
"Having a vegetable garden is a real pain in the ass," said Enrique Olvera as he knelt down to pull a Cheeto-colored carrot from the MUNCHIES Garden. No truer words were spoken on that late-summer afternoon, except that here at MUNCHIES, we don't, in fact, do all of our dirty work.
Like the brown thumb garden n00bs that we are, our friends at Brooklyn Grange—who designed and installed our delightful rooftop garden—make sure to do most of it for us. Without them, our greens would mutate into vegetal gremlins from The Little Shop of Horrors. And when Enrique Olvera, considered one of the best chefs in the world, and Daniela Soto-Innes, chef de cuisine at Olvera's newest spot, Cosme, stopped by our garden, we knew we had to deliver the goods.
Olvera has pioneered the contemporary Mexican culinary scene at his swanky Mexico City spot, Pujol—ranked number 16 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants List—and Eno, the small café version located a few doors down. Last year marked a milestone for the chef after he opened Cosme, his first US restaurant that's making New Yorkers redefine their notions of Mexican cuisine altogether. And Soto-Innes is at the center stove, leading the charge on remarkable dishes like spelt esquites and tlayudas filled with black garbanzo beans, stracciatella cheese, avocado, and chicharrónes.
In short: Good luck getting a reservation anytime soon.
So when Olvera and Soto-Innes swung by our plot a few months ago, we weren't sure that our produce would pass their sniff test. "I thought you were going to have a tiny little plot of carrots in terms of what you have to offer here, but I was wrong. Very wrong," said Olvera as he scanned our rooftop plots and smiled.
After quickly inspecting the flora under the beating hot sun, the duo worked quickly, plucking ground cherries, purple radishes, and carrots from the fresh dirt. But when they walked over to the herb garden, Soto-Innes stopped dead in her tracks. "What is that?" She asked as she ran her fingers through the anise-hyssop, an herbaceous plant that has many pastry chefs jonesing for its licorice flavor profile that's used in teas and desserts. "This reminds me of Andes Mints, like the ones you get on your pillow at hotels. I love it!" said Soto-Innes.
With enough of a haul to make everyone happy at family meal, the duo headed back to the Cosme kitchen to see what they could create from their loot.
Soto-Innes started undressing the ground cherries from their shells and stood back to take a look at all of the produce. "We were thinking about doing something very fresh, and Mexican food is all about highlighting the ingredients without doing too much to them." To keep it light, she julienned some heirloom tomatoes and cut the ground cherries in half while Olvera grabbed some fresh diver scallops. Within a mere five minutes, the duo composed a delicate scallop ceviche by tossing it with olive oil, lime, salt, pepper, ground cherries, red onion, and tomato. Olvera spooned the seafood mixture into a crispy red tortilla Soto-Innes had just pulled from a piping hot oiled pan, turning the combo into a tostada. Micro-cilantro and freshly cut radishes were sprinkled on top with the fresh hyssop to give it an extra layer of bright flavor.
"We thought that the hyssop was an extremely interesting flavor, like nothing we've ever tasted before. It was a perfect balance with the ground cherries and the scallop. The corn tostada gave the ceviche crunch, and the radishes were spicy, which was a great way to have that Mexican spice without adding any chiles to it," said Soto-Innes.
In the end, Soto-Innes admitted that there was a critical component that was missing from taking the scallop tostada to the next level. "We just wanted to bring a grill to the MUNCHIES rooftop garden, pick everything, and tell everybody who had a reservation at Cosme that night to come by the new VICE office and get ready to eat. The tostada was delicious in our kitchen, but we wished we could have eaten it right there in the garden where the view of the Williamsburg bridge is right in your sights."
RECIPE: Scallop Ceviche Tostadas with Hyssop and Ground Cherries