There is a restaurant in Tulum, Mexico that does not have a roof. There are probably a number of such places in the Yucatán, but this one is run by two ex-New Yorkers who traded tiny overpriced spaces, with ceilings, for the clear blue ocean and wood-fire cooking.
Their place is called Hartwood and last March Brett and I went to visit. I got halfway through my salad of chaya and hibiscus-stained eggs before microbial poisoning from a previous encounter took over and we had to leave rather abruptly.
We have vowed to go back and finish our dinner, but for now the restaurant also has a cookbook. Until we are again Mexico-bound, their food can be recreated from the comfort of our enclosed Boston kitchen.
The first recipe we tried was their grilled calamar salad. It is a gorgeous plate of charred squid and leafy greens drizzled with an emerald basil and charred onion dressing set against a brick red chile sauce with coffee-colored flecks.
The sauce goes with everything, so a condiment of delicious ubiquity is what I am here to discuss today.
We have had it with grilled skirt steak and homemade breakfast tacos with soft scrambled eggs, also pictured above. I suspect it would be wonderful with most meats and legumes known to man. Recently it has functioned as a universal taco sidekick, thanks to the tortilla press my sister gave me for Christmas.
It is slightly sweet from the honey, plums, and tamarind paste, while the toasted sunflower seeds lend some nuttiness. The chiles, cocoa nibs, and coffee add oomph and a spicy richness.
It reminds me of a vibe that is, quite frankly, the opposite of New England petulant. Of a place where the locals are not as irritated. Where you will be less likely to have an obscenity yelled at you walking down the street.
Maybe it is the lack of vitamin D or an over-reliance on root vegetables and long underwear with our front seat view of the Atlantic, but we coastal elites can be an agitated bunch.
This sauce is a counterpoint to all of that. It says relax. And eat some fucking tacos.
Chile Sunflower Sauce
Adapted from Hartwood by Eric Werner and Mya Henry
- 4 prunes
- 2 tbsp sunflower seeds
- 1 dried guajillo chile, minced
- 2 dried árbol chiles, minced
- 1 tsp cacao nibs
- 2 tbsp tamarind pulp
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
- ½ cup water
- ½ tsp finely ground coffee beans
- generous pinch of ground cinnamon
- ¼ to ½ tsp kosher salt
In a small saucepan, place the prunes and about 1 cup of water and simmer until they are plump (about 15 to 20 minutes).
Meanwhile in a small sauté pan, toast the sunflower seeds, chiles, and cacao nibs until fragrant; set aside.
Drain the plums and place them in a blender with the toasted chile mixture and remaining ingredients. Puree until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Makes a scant cup.
- Taza has great cacoa nibs.
- Look for tamarind pulp in the Asian foods section of your local grocery store.