Weary and tired, Sweets and I dragged our jet-lagged bodies into our rental car, and headed up the coast line to Hilo to eat up time before we could collapse in the vacation house we had rented. The ten hour flight did not lend itself to a full night’s sleep, which only contributed to us feeling a bit more out of our element than usual.
My job as navigator proved to be challenging as well,
“Umm… take a left at this next K-street”.
“K- street? Can you sound it out?”
“No…” I whined not sure what to make my mouth do with all the vowels., “Kam-ah…” in my head whirled the bad Hawaiian joke seen on t-shirts in high school: Kam-on-a-wana-lai-u?
Magically our car was pulled in the direction of good food and we found ourselves at Cafe Pesto. In an unexpected fit of nostalgia we giggled at the appearance of Oregon Chai on the menu and ordered iced sweet chai and a Southwestern pizza. What came to us from that kitchen is one of the best pizzas I have ever tasted…tangy chipotle chicken on a bed of garlicy cilantro pesto, and topped with red onion rings, smooth creamy goat cheese crumbles and sweet chili sauce. We swooned, finishing off every slice, licking the sweet vinegar sauce off of our fingers.
This flavor combination of cilantro pesto and sweet chili sauce has become a cult favorite in our house ever since…
Cilantro Chili Pizza, ala Cafe Pesto
Preheat the oven to 500F, preferable with a pizza stone on the middle shelf. Allow the oven to heat 30 minutes or more.
Meanwhile, prep your favorite pizza dough. If using refrigerated pizza dough, allow it to come to room temperature before shaping. Preparation of the pesto and chili sauces can be accomplished in the time it takes for the pizza dough to rest:
This recipe makes more pesto than needed for pizza. Use the leftovers as a marinade for grilling, or go crazy making this pizza for all of your friends.
In a food processor or blender combine:
- 1/2 cup peeled garlic cloves
- 1 cup of cilantro leaves, stems and roots
- 1 Tbs of ground pepper
- 1 tsp of salt
- with enough canola or olive oil to help grind the ingredients into a paste
Store in the refrigerator or freezer with a slight film of oil on the pesto surface to help maintain the bright green color.
Sweet Hot Garlic Sauce
This is my number one favorite ingredient, to always be found in my refrigerator. It is excellent paired with fried crispy foods, grilled meats, drizzled on curries, and on top of this pizza. Fortunately this tasty sauce is becoming increasingly common in grocery stores, often called Nahm Jeem Gratiem, or Tuong Ot Ngot.
In a sauce pan combine
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup vinegar
- 2 Tbs minced garlic
- 1 tsp salt
Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low, simmering to reduce and thicken to a syrupy sauce approximately 20 minutes or more. When thickened, stir in 1 Tbs of chili garlic sauce and allow to cool to room temperture. Store in the refrigerator.
Shape your pizza dough in the size you want, stretching it out thin with your fingers and hands. Place it on a piece of waxed paper, trimmed to match the foot print of the pizza dough shape and transfer the dough to a pizza peel for easy sliding onto the pizza stone.
Spread several tablespoons of the cilantro pesto on the surface of the dough. Sprinkle with a slight pinch of salt. Continue to top the pizza with chopped sundried tomatoes,red onion slices and chopped red bell pepper.
Slide the pizza onto your hot pizza stone and cook until the bottom is crusty brown, approximately 5-8 minutes.
Immediately top the pizza with crumbled goat cheese upon removing it from the oven. And lastly, the most important step, drizzle the pizza with Sweet Hot Garlic Sauce.
This pizza is also excellent topped with any grilled meat or seafood. If the goat cheese is omited this is a very tasty vegan meal.