It was a long time ago, in the prime of my teenage youth, when my parents first whipped up the dish that I would come to declare my “favorite.” At that time, the unexpected spice rub was slathered over beef tenderloin instead of portobellos but the flavors the same, nonetheless. In typical teenage fashion, I always doubted my parents’ sanity; however, this oddball recipe they insisted I try was encouraging me to upgrade their crazy status a few notches (love you, mom and pops!).
In an effort to ensure all the events on my weekend social calendar could be attended (i.e., spending hours driving around in my friend Christine’s Hunter Green Jeep Grand Cherokee with the highlight of the evening being a stop at a 7-11 to pickup watermelon slurpees), I figured I better just woman-up and take a few bites. I mean, I had places to go and slurpees to see. For real though, why do teenagers love to spend hours driving around wasting gas? Was this just cool in 2001 when gas was cheaper and slurpees more hip or do kids still do this?
Anyway, back to the story of my adolescence. I’m sure I said something like, “Well, I’m totally not going to like this weird food, but I guess I’ll take a bite if you’re saying I have to” just before allowing the spicy-sweet mixture of meat and fruit cross my lips. In my memory, I believe this is about the point when REO Speedwagon’s Can’t Fight This Feeling was cued to play. The taste was something so extraordinarily delicious. The cinnamon flavor complimented the tenderloin in the most perfect way and the mango-jalapeno salsa added a twist of silky freshness.
It turned out that this dish would be the first meal that I successfully recreated on my own. The dish that inspired me to cook for others and allowed me to understand that, in cooking, the most unexpected ingredients can sometimes pair together to make something memorable.
Flash forward to yesterday, and I decided on my drive home from work that my favorite dish was no longer going to be on my “can’t eat” list. With a few adjustments and one major substitute, I was able to recreate the flavor combination I had been craving. Putting portobellos in place of the beef just made sense, and I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this sooner. The cinnamon and cayenne in this dish warm from the inside out and blend with the portobello and salsa to create a meal that is truly special. I hope you give this unexpected pairing a try and find it to be as memorable as I do.
Cinnamon-Spiced Portobello Tenderloin w/ Mango-Jalapeño Salsa (Serves 4)
For the Mango-Jalapeño Salsa:
◊ 1/2 cup mango jelly or mango butter
◊ 3 tbsp fresh lime juice
◊ 2 1/2 cups chopped mango, peeled and pitted (about 2 mangos)
◊ 1 1/4 cups chopped red bell pepper, seeded
◊ 3/4 cup chopped red onion
◊ 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
◊ 2 jalapeño chilies, seeded and minced
Whisk jelly and lime juice together in a large bowl. Mix in all remaining ingredients. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 hours ahead — cover; refrigerate).
For the Cinnamon-Spiced Portobello Tenderloin:
◊ 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
◊ 2 tbsp ground coriander
◊ 2 tbsp sugar
◊ 3 tsp salt
◊ 1 tsp cayenne pepper
◊ 8 portobello caps, cleaned and de-stemmed
◊ olive oil
Mix together first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Toss the freshly-washed portobello caps in the spice rub and ensure each is coated evenly. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook. When ready to cook, heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook each portobello cap until tender, making sure to flip each halfway through cooking (3-4 minutes each side). Serve two caps with 1/2 cup of the mango-jalapeño salsa. Enjoy!