One way to add a nice rustic feel to a dish is to char, or roast, a few of the ingredients. Charring concentrates and deepens the flavor of an ingredient and brings out a subtle sweetness.
It is one of the signature cooking techniques in Mexico where, traditionally, ingredients like chiles, onion, garlic, spices, herbs, tomatillos and tomatoes are charred on comales or directly over the flame. If you don’t have a comal, or don’t want to cook directly over the burner, you can just as easily char ingredients on a grill or in a skillet.
OR, the way I find to be the easiest and fastest: in a pan under the broiler in your oven. Put the ingredients on a large sheet pan leaving plenty of space between them so they roast, not steam, and broil until they are nicely browned on one side. Carefully flip and repeat on the other side.
You want the outside to darken until almost black, and the inside cooked and transformed, but not burnt.
Below are the specific techniques for a couple of the ingredients most often charred in Mexican recipes: tomatoes and garlic.
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The molcajete is a cooking tool that although not absolutely necessary this day in age, it does have its uses, benefits and looks. Mexico’s version of the mortar and pestle (the pestle being called tejolote) it has been used for thousands of years to pound, smash, grind and mix ingredients such as herbs, spices and chiles, create rubs, pastes and sauces.
It it is traditionally made of basalt volcanic rock, which is very porous and rough and it makes it very heavy. There are however, newer versions of lighter material, that I am not so fond off. When new, there are many takes of how to “cure” them, so they can begin to be used. Some people grind white rice, while others grind peeled garlic cloves. I like to do both. So just take either one or the other, or both, and grind them with the pestle. Then just wash with a soapy sponge and rinse under cold water.
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Yes, you can buy them already made at the store… but there are few things that can compare to the nurturing and filling sensation of homemade corn tortillas.
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Chipotles in adobo sauce are one of my favorite Mexican ingredients. They are ready to be spooned on top or inside of almost anything: quesadillas, tacos, sandwiches, grilled meats… Yet, they are also a wonderful cooking ingredient to use for making a wide range of dishes, from soups to moles, from salsas to stews and even mashed potatoes. Chipotles have truly unique layers of flavor that come together in a most wonderful way: smoky, sweet, deep, rich and pleasantly spicy.
Continue reading Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
In Mexican cooking, corn is eaten and drank, in just about every possible way… Esquites, freshly shaved corn usually cooked in a buttery broth with epazote leaves and Serrano chile, is one of the most popular takes. So much so, that my boys counted eight Esquite street carts in the small down town square of Chihuahua, when we were there last month.
It is very common to walk through the streets in a Mexican city or village, no matter how tiny it may be, and find a wide array of street food stands boasting the dishes that Mexicans abroad hanker for the most: Antojitos, or little cravings. Each one being a Universe compounded with layers of flavors, in its own right.
Continue reading Corn: In a bowl or on a stick
The epazote herb is one deeply Mexican ingredient that has no substitute that I know off. It has a very unique, clear and deep flavor that adds a lot of character to a dish. Hard to describe, it has that I don’t know what, that somehow makes a distinct difference.
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While most of us in DC have stacked our winter clothes up in the attic or inside a trunk, the truth is, it’s still a bit chilly. So today I made this mushroom soup, yet again. I should be tired of it already, since I just cooked 100 portions of it for last Friday’s cooking class at the Institute and I had tested it for weeks… But here I go.. It is just too good!
It is not your typical soup at all. It has the woody and earthy feel of the mushrooms, but their flavor is somehow enhanced by the chile de árbol. It may sound strange, since one would think that chiles mask the flavor of ingredients. But depending on how you use them, they can pronounce rather than overpower other flavors.
Continue reading A comfy soup for the still chilly nights
My friend Vered walked into my house carrying a pound of French feta cheese and some freshly baked pitas she found at a Middle Eastern store. It was the kind she used to cook with in her Israeli home. Just a taste made us realize how hungry we were, though we were not near any mealtime. Nonetheless, we had 20 minutes before we had to run, so that’s a great excuse for a snack.
The last beautifully ripe Mexican avocado I had in the basket was staring at me. So I offered to make a Mexican Farolada out of her pita, of course to top with some fresh Guacamole.
The Farolada, named after the Farolito chain of taco restaurants, consists of pita bread stuffed with Mexican Manchego cheese (similar to Monterey Jack), thrown on the grill until the cheese oozes out. If let to sit there per your request, it will become crispy too.
Continue reading The double life of an avocado
This is a versatile basic green tomatillo salsa. It can be drizzled on top of Mexican Antojos, such as Tostadas, Tacos, Quesadillas and Sopes… It can also be used to make Green Enchiladas or Chilaquiles. It can be spooned on top of eggs in the morning, used as a side garnish to grilled meats and as the seasoning to bake some fresh flaky fish in the oven. I could go on and on though…. here it goes:
Continue reading Cooked Salsa Verde
You will find that refried beans are one of the most common sides for traditional Mexican dishes. From breakfast, to dinner, they are always a welcome companion. You can make them with different kinds of beans, like Black, Pinto, or Peruvian. The choice in Mexico varies among regions but also among cooks. I tend to use the Pintos more, because they have a creamier consistency and softer flavor. The Black, delicious as well, have a stronger flavor and texture. The Peruvian have a peculiar flavor, that is hard to define, but it is stronger than the Pintos and lighter than the Black.
You can make the Refried beans in a traditional way, which is by mashing the Frijoles de Olla in the pan with onion that has been sauteed in lard, or you can substitute for oil. You can also make quicker and smoother Refried beans, by skipping the mashing part, and placing the Frijoles de Olla in the blender, to make a smooth Bean puree that you can then thicken and season.
Continue reading Beans: Refried Beans