Pati's Mexican Table
A tasty look at the way French cuisine has historically influenced modern Mexican cooking, and simple techniques any American cook can manage with impressive results.
The same foods that parents pack into a hearty school lunch in Mexico are perfect for school lunchtime in America. These dishes are so tasty and filling, even grownups will want to take them to work…
CAJETA CRÊPES WITH TOASTED PECANS
Crepas de cajeta con nuez
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup milk
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
Pinch kosher or sea salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup water
Extra butter to oil the pan
2 cups cajeta or La Lechera dulce de leche
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon rum, optional
1/2 cup pecans, chopped and toasted, to garnish
Vanilla ice cream, optional
To make the Crepes: In a small pan, heat the butter over low heat until it melts. Set it aside. Place flour, eggs, milk, sugar, salt and melted butter in the blender and purée until smooth, for about 10 seconds. Add water and blend again until smooth. You can also mix the ingredients by hand, following the same order.
Place batter in a container, cover and refrigerate for at least half an hour, up to 12 hours. Once ready to make the crêpes, whisk the batter well with a fork or a whisk.
Set a crêpe pan or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Butter the bottom of the pan and ladle about ¼ cup of batter onto it. Instead of working from the center to the sides, tilt the pan and pour the batter over one side and spread it as quickly as possible to the rest of the pan, so that it covers the entire surface.
Cook for about 20 to 25 seconds, until edges are cooked and begin to dry out and the bottom of the crêpe is lightly browned. With a small spatula or fork, lift one edge of the crêpe and turn it over quickly with your fingers. Cook the second side for about 10 to 15 seconds, or until it has lightly browned. Flip the crêpe onto a plate.
Repeat with the rest of the batter. After 3 or 4 crêpes, you may need to butter the pan again. If it isn’t a nonstick pan, you may need to do it for every one. Stack crêpes on top of each other with the first, darker side down. That darker side will become the outer layer of the crêpe once you fill them up or fold them.
If you aren’t going to use all of the crêpes at once, or if you are making them ahead of time, wrap them in plastic wrap and place them in a closed plastic bag and store in the refrigerator up to 4 days, or in the freezer for weeks.
To make the Sauce:
Pour the cajeta and the milk in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring and gently simmering it for a couple of minutes until it is completely mixed together and well dissolved.
Place a crêpe on a plate and spread a couple tablespoons cajeta sauce all over the surface. Fold crêpe in half, add a couple more tablespoons of sauce into the middle of the half-moon shape. Fold the crêpe again to make a triangle shape (with a rounded bottom) and pour a few more tablespoons of sauce on top.
Garnish with the toasted pecans and serve. You may want to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream too…
HAM AND CHEESE TORTA SANDWICHES
Tortas de jamón y queso
2 Mexican bolillo or telera rolls, or small baguettes
1/2 cup refried beans
1/2 ripe Mexican avocado, scooped and sliced
4 slices Mexican queso fresco, Oaxaca or Mozzarella
4 to 6 slices turkey, ham or cooked chicken
1 tomato, sliced and seeded
A couple of thin slices of onion, optional
Pickled jalapeño peppers to taste, optional
Salt to taste, optional
2 tablespoons Mexican-style cream, optional
Slice the rolls in half lengthwise. If they’re not fresh, toast them slightly for a few minutes. On one side, spread a tablespoon of refried beans; on the other, mash 1/4 of an avocado with a fork.
Top the bottom half of the bread with a few slices of cheese, 2 or 3 slices of turkey or cold cuts of your choice, it may also be shredded chicken or meat, and a couple of slices of tomato.
Drizzle a tablespoon of Mexican-style cream and crown your package with as many pickled jalapeños as you wish. Sprinkle a bit of salt on top.
Place the top half of the roll on the sandwich and slice the torta horizontally. Eat it or wrap it up so that it can travel along with you.
BLISSFUL CORN TORTE
Torta de elote
1/2 pound unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
8 eggs, separated
4 cups corn kernels
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup rice flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt
Place rack in the middle of oven and heat to 360 degrees. Butter a 9×12-inch pan.
Beat the butter with the sugar until creamy. Slowly add 8 egg yolks, one by one, until incorporated. Add the cream, rice flour and baking powder.
In a blender, process the milk with the corn kernels, then, incorporate it into the mix above. Place the mixture in a big mixing bowl.
Separately, beat the egg whites with salt until stiff peaks are formed. Add 1/5 of the egg whites to the butter/corn mix and blend carefully. Slowly blend the rest of the egg whites until everything is mixed, it is ok if the mixture looks streaky, don’t over work it or it will lose volume. Pour onto baking dish.
Bake until torte is springy to the touch and lightly browned, 45 to 50 minutes. Once it cools a little, cut into squares. It can be served either warm or cold; it can be covered and kept at room temperature for an entire day, or covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
SNAPPER IN A POBLANO CHILE SAUCE
Pescado con salsa de chile poblano
6-6 oz mild-flavored fish filets, like red snapper, sea bass, grouper, tilapia or mahi-mahi
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime (2-3 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 cup Mexican cream, or Latin style, crème fraiche or heavy cream
1 cup milk
2 poblano chiles
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, grated
1 cup shredded cheese (Monterey Jack, Muenster, Mozzarella)
Rinse the fish filets under a thin stream of cold water, drain and pat dry. Place in a container, drizzle with the lime juice, garlic, salt and black pepper. Let it marinate anywhere from 15 minutes up to two hours in the refrigerator.
Slice the poblanos in half, removing the stem, seeds and veins. Roughly chop and place in the blender along with the milk, purée until smooth.
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the flour to make a roux. It should be nice and foamy. Cook until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chile purée, Mexican cream and nutmeg and cook on low heat until it thickens, about 10 to 12 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter the bottom of baking dish and place the marinated fish there, without extra marinade. Cover generously with the poblano sauce. If using cheese, sprinkle it on top.
Bake just until the fish is cooked and flakes with a fork, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the filets.
Jump into a Lucha Libre ring and experience the kind of fighting spirit that fuels a great love of Mexican food. These classic recipes provoke heated discussions in Mexico, but are perfectly tasty regardless of which twist on ingredients you prefer.
BLACKBERRY AND PECAN TAMALES
Tamales de Zarzamora y Nuez
Makes about 20 tamales
25 dried corn husks
1 cup vegetable shortening or good quality lard
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp cold water
1 tsp baking powder
1 lb instant corn masa mixfor tamales, or about 3 1/4 cups, such as Maseca
3 cups warm water
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
12 oz blackberries, rinsed
To make masa for tamales:
Place the vegetable shortening or lard with 1 tablespoon of cold water in a mixer and beat, until very light and spongy, about 1 minute. Add the baking powder and salt, and then take turns adding the instant corn masa mix and the water. Continue beating until the dough is homogeneous and fluffy.
Mix in the sugar and cinnamon and continue beating until everything is well mixed. You may also do it by hand.
You know the tamal masa is ready if:
1. When you lift a big spoon with masa, drop it into the dough it falls “de golpe” or heavy.
2. It has the consistency of a medium thick cake batter.
3. If you place 1/2 teaspoon of masa in a cup of cold water and it floats.
To prepare the steamer:
Place water in the pan of a steamer and bring it to a simmer. Line the steamer with one or two layers of corn husks. Use the dough to form about 20 corn husk wrapped tamales.
To make tamales:
Soak the dried corn husks in hot water for a couple of minutes, until they are pliable and drain. Lay out a corn husk with the tapered ends facing towards you. Spread 3 to 4 tablespoons of the masa into a 2 to 3 inch square, the layer should be about 1/4 inch, leaving a boarder of at least 1/2 inch on the sides. Place 1 to 2 blackberries in the middle of the masa filling and sprinkle about a teaspoon of the pecans on top.
Pick up the two long sides of the corn husk and bring them together, causing the masa to surround the berries and pecans and fold them to one side, rolling them in the same direction around the tamal. Fold up the empty section of the husk with the tapering end, from the bottom up. This will form a closed bottom and the top will be left open.
Prepare the tamales and then place them vertically in a container. When you have them all ready, place them as vertically as you can in the prepared steamer, with the open end on top. If there is space left in the steamer, tuck in more corn husks so the tamales will not dance around. Cover with more corn husks and steam, covered for 50 minutes to an hour over medium heat. You know the tamales are ready when the tamales come easily free from the husks.
Finished tamales will stay warm for about 1 to 2 hours in the steamer. They can be made ahead several days before and stored in the refrigerator, well wrapped. They can also be frozen for months. In either case, reheat in the steamer. For refrigerated tamales it will take about 15 minutes, and for frozen tamales about 45 minutes.