Pati's Mexican Table
Simple, easy, home-style cuisine that you’d find in just about any Mexican home, recreated for the American kitchen. This meal was my favorite “everyday” meal growing up in Mexico, and one I regularly make for my own family today. I am proud to share the steps so that you can enjoy it too.
WHITE RICE AND FRIED PLANTAINS
Arroz blanco con plátanos fritos
Serves 8 to 10
2 cups long-grain white rice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for frying plantains
1/2 cup white onion, finely chopped
4 cups chicken stock, prepared or homemade
1 celery stalk, cut in half
1 fresh parsley sprig
1 tablespoon lime juice, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
2 ripe plantains, peeled and sliced
1 serrano chile
Sour cream, to garnish, optional
To prepare the rice:
Place the rice in a large bowl and cover with very hot water; let it soak anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again.
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring softly for 2 to 3 minutes. Incorporate the onion and stir, from time to time, until the rice begins to change to a milky-white color and feels and sounds heavier, as if it were grains of sand; about 3 to 4 more minutes.Pour in the chicken stock, along with the celery, parsley, lime juice, salt and whole chile.
When it comes to a rolling boil, cover the pot, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cook until the rice is cooked through and the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. If the rice grains don’t seem soft and cooked through, add a bit more chicken broth or water and let it cook for another 5 more minutes or so.
Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork when ready to serve. Place the cooked plantains (below) on top. Place sour cream on the side for people to add to their rice and plantains if they like.
To prepare the plantains:
Note: The skin of the plantain should be almost entirely black when it is mature and ready to use in this recipe.
Peel the plantains and slice them diagonally into 1/4-inch thick slices.
In a sauté pan, over medium heat, add about 1/4-inch of oil. Heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Add the plantain slices and fry until browned but not blackened, about 2 minutes per side, the oil should be bubbling around their edges of the plantain slices as they cook.
Remove the plantains from the oil and drain them on a plate covered with paper towels.
JUJU’S BIRTHDAY CAKE
Pastel de chocolate de Juju
For the cake:
1 cup water
2/3 cup cocoa
1/2 cup unsalted butter or vegetable shortening
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup sour cream
2 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
For the Frosting:
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup vegetable shortening or butter
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup sprinkles, optional
To prepare the cake:
Grease a 9×13-inch cake pan with butter. Cover the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large pot, over medium heat, pour the water, stir in the cocoa and add the butter. Let it heat for a few minutes, stirring now and then, until it all dissolves. Remove the pot from the heat.
In another bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder. In another, beat the eggs and combine them with the sour cream.
In turns, add a quarter of the flour mix and then a quarter of the sour cream mix at a time into the pot with the cocoa mixture; stir with a spatula, mixing all of the ingredients as you move along. Pour onto the greased cake pan and place in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out barely moist but not wet.
Take the cake out of the oven and let it cool a bit while you prepare the frosting.
To prepare the frosting:
In a saucepan, over medium heat, pour in the milk and the vanilla. Stir in the cocoa and add the butter. Heat and stir until everything is all dissolved and combined. Remove from the heat and stir in the confectioners’ sugar. Thoroughly mix with a spatula and set aside.
Run the tip of a knife around the edges of the cake. Turn the cake onto a platter and gently remove the parchment paper. Pour the still-warm frosting over the cake and gently spread it out with a spatula. If you wish, you may add sprinkles of your choice before the frosting hardens (NOTE: The cake is soft and moist the first couple days, then hardens like a brownie afterwards if left uncovered– perfect for packing in school lunches).
STREET-STYLE CUT-UP FRUITS & VEGETABLES
Frutas y verduras de carrito
1 to 2 large mangoes
4 large carrots
Dried ground chile such as piquín
3 limes, or more to taste
Peel and slice the fruits and vegetables, you may do this ahead of time and store covered in the refrigerator. Sprinkle salt and chile to taste. Squeeze fresh lime juice on top. Mix and enjoy.
MEXICAN WEDDING COOKIES
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (or double the butter)
1/2 cup pecans, ground or finely chopped
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large cookie sheet.
In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse the pecans until they are finely chopped. Add the powdered sugar, flour and salt, and pulse again. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula if necessary.
Drop in the butter and shortening chunks, and pulse a couple of times. Add the egg and pulse again, just until the mixture starts to come together. Roll the dough into 1- to 1 1/2″ balls with your hands.
Place the balls on the baking sheet, spacing them 1″ apart; give them a light pat on the top. Bake until the cookies are golden brown, about 15 minutes. You may need to bake two batches.
Generously, really super generously, dust extra confectioners’ sugar over the top of the cookies.
TAMPICO-STYLE STEAK COMBO
For the steak:
6 6 oz beef tenderloin slices, 2″ to 3″ thick
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher or sea salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
For the poblano strips or rajas:
6 poblano chiles
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup white onion, thinly-sliced
Kosher or sea salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 thick slice white cheese, panela, asadero or blanco
1 ripe avocado, halved, scopped and sliced
To cut and prepare the meat:
On a large cutting board, hold one piece of beef upright and, with a sharp knife, make a vertical cut into the meat about 1/4″ deep.Continue slicing around the circumference of the piece, unrolling a thin layer of beef as you go, stopping to turn it when you need to, until you get a long strip 1/4″ thick and about 2″ wide. Continue with the rest of the pieces.
Season the meat on both sides with the lime juice, garlic, salt and pepper.
When the meat is ready, lightly coat a griddle or large 12″ skillet over medium-high heat; once it is very hot, cook the meat for about 1 to 2 minutes on each side, depending on your desired done-ness level.
To prepare the poblano strips or rajas:
Place the poblano chiles on a tray under the broiler, directly on a grill or directly on an open flame. I prefer to broil them, it’s faster and easier. Whatever method you choose, turn them every 2 to 3 minutes for a total of 6 to 9 minutes. They’ll seem charred and blistered on the outside; the flesh must be cooked but not burnt — like roasting marshmallows over a fire.
Once charred and hot, place them in a plastic bag, close it tightly and let them sweat for 10 to 20 minutes. Then, and preferably under a thin stream of cold water, remove the charred skin, make a slit down one side of the pepper and remove the cluster of seeds and veins. Cut the stem off and make slices that are about a 1/2″ inch wide.
Heat the oil and butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, cook for 6 to 8 minutes. Add the rajas (the poblano pepper strips) and cook for a few more minutes. Add the vinegar, cook another minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To prepare the grilled cheese:
Heat a griddle, grill pan or nonstick or seasoned cast iron skillet over medium heat until hot. Place the cheese slice on the grill pan and cook until lightly browned. Cut the cheese into 6 slices.
Prepare each plate with one piece of steak, some poblano pepper strips, two enchiladas and a slice of the grilled cheese. The meal is traditionally served with a side of tortillas, refried beans sprinkled with cheese, a slice of avocado and the salsa of your choice.
ENCHILADAS IN RED TOMATO SAUCE
Enchiladas en Salsa Roja
For the sauce:
1 poundripe tomatoes
1 garlic clove, skin on
1 1/4″-thick slicewhite onion (about 1 ounce)
1 jalapeño or serrano chile, or to taste
3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or to taste
For the enchiladas:
Oil for frying the tortillas, optional
12 corn tortillas
1/2 cup Mexican cream
1/2 cup queso fresco or cotija, crumbled
1/3 cup white onion,chopped
Ripe avocado, halved, scooped and sliced
Place the tomatoes, garlic, onions, and chile on a medium baking dish, roasting pan or ovenproof skillet. Place them under a hot broiler and char the ingredients for about 9 to 10 minutes, turning them halfway through as the pieces brown thoroughly. The tomatoes’ skin should be charred, wrinkled, and the juices begin to run. The chile and onions should be softened and nicely charred; the papery husk of the garlic should be burned and the clove softened inside.
Remove the skin from the garlic clove and discard. Place the garlic in the blender along with the tomatoes, onion, and chile (start with half chile first, adding the other half or more if you feel you want more heat later), and the salt. Purée until smooth, set aside.
In a large sauté pan, over medium heat, add enough oil to reach 1/2-inch deep; let it heat for about 3 minutes. Gently glide each tortilla through the oil, one by one, for about 15 seconds on each side, so that they soften and become resilient. You should be able to fold them without breaking them. Transfer the tortillas to a paper towel-covered plate. Alternately, you can lightly toast them on an already hot comal or skillet set over medium heat, for about 20 seconds per side.
Glide the tortillas through the salsa. Fold and then cover, generously, with more of the red sauce. Sprinkle with the crumbled cheese, the cream, and the chopped onion.
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 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…