Recipes : Main Courses
Tamales are it. If you’ve eaten one, you know it.
Simple. When ready and steaming hot, unwrap the edible bundle and eat swiftly, no fork, no knife, bite by bite. So good.
Yet as simple as it may sound to write a post about tamales, I could dedicate an entire series of cookbooks to their endless possibilities, and in the end, not have covered them all.
Ancestral, iconic, yet humble, is each single tamal. And the tamal universe, immense, imagine: tamal refers to anything wrapped and cooked in a husk or leave. Usually made with masa, typically corn masa, either mixed with or swaddling ingredients, or both! As you move through Mexico, and increasingly outside, you find them in different shapes (round, square, flat, puffed up, even triangular like Michoacán corundas); with different wraps (corn husks, either fresh or dried, banana leaves and even fresh edible leafy greens like chaya in Chiapas); with an infinity of ingredients, from savory, like chicken, meat, seafood, vegetables, beans, all sort of grains, salsas and cheese…to sweet ingredients, like fresh and dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, cajeta…
The consistency and texture vary greatly, too, from thin and dense like tamales found in Oaxaca; to sticky and gelatinous from Yucatán; to spongy and cakey like the ones from northern and central Mexico, where I grew up.
Continue reading My Favorite Tamal of All Time: Chicken in Green Salsa
My Favorite Tamal of All Time: Chicken in Green Salsa
A taco is a beautiful thing.
One of the most satisfying, versatile, exciting, and downright honest foods I can think of.
Plus, there is no need or mood a taco can’t tackle.
You are hungry and have but one peso in your pocket? Eat a Taco de Nada. You pass a tortillería on your way home? A Taco de Sal will hold you off until you get there. A deep hangover ails you? Go for Tacos de Barbacoa with Salsa Borracha. Did you say you have a broken heart? A pair of fully stocked Tacos al Pastor will be your most effective rebound. You are home with a cold? Soft chicken tacos dipped in fresh crema will make you all better, no doubt about that. Need to feed your teen kid and his buddies before they head out? Crispy Potato and Chorizo Tacos dressed with shredded lettuce, crumbled queso fresco and Salsa Verde will make them happy and fill them up. It’s lunchtime and you are on the road? If you are in Mexico (or somewhere with a large Mexican community), you will find someone with a huge basket selling Tacos Sudados to go. Planning a backyard party? Tacos de Carnitas will kick it off, without you even saying a word.
Continue reading Bricklayer Tacos
My paternal grand mother, Bobe, used to make two kinds of gefilte fish every Friday: white or traditional and red or a la Veracruzana. The moment you sat down, she made you choose, “which do you want mamele, white or red?”
Invariably, after you chose, she’d ask, “you don’t like the way I make the other one?”
She’d barge in, make room on your plate and serve you the kind you hadn’t picked, right next to the one you had chosen. She’d wait for you to taste it and tell her how good the one you hadn’t chosen was. Then, she would eat right off your plate.
Having come from tiny shtetls in the polish countryside, both her and my grandfather arrived in Mexico so very young. Mexico gave them an opportunity to start a life away from pogroms.
They worked hard and made a simple but good life for themselves. Though they were humble, and without much savings, every Friday they had a bountiful table full of food for their three grown children and their families – all together there were ten granddaughters. Nope. Not a single grandson!
Continue reading Do You Want it Red or White? Mexican Style Gefilte Fish
Do You Want it Red or White? Mexican Style Gefilte Fish
It was my friend Tamara´s birthday party. Her husband, Sean, an American who speaks and acts like a Mexico City native (says a Mexico City native), made the dinner for the 40+ guests. The guests were drinking, eating and laughing until their stomachs were hurting, usual for their home. Sean came up to me when he saw me walk in, gave me a plate, placed two of these sliders on and said, “You are going to like these.”
I ate one. YUM.
I said, “There’s chipotle in them!”
I ate two. OMG.
I said, “I can take that platter”, and ate the remaining four. Of course, he was grilling some more.
No, I didn’t even try his Asian tuna sliders. No, I didn’t try his regular cheeseburger sliders. No, of course, I didn’t try his vegetarian sliders. All I wanted were these Chipotle Pork Sliders. I was hooked.
After I had my fill, I told Sean I had to post his recipe on my blog, as I was sure you all would love them just like I did. He obliged, and I tested his recipe many times giving it a few tweaks (hey, you know, I can’t help myself). I added a bit of onion, garlic and oregano to the meat mix and more chipotle (come on Sean, you talk like a Mexican!). I took some of the mayo out of the avocado spread and added the refreshing chives.
Continue reading Sean’s Cheesy Chipotle Pork Sliders with Avocado Spread
Sean’s Cheesy Chipotle Pork Sliders with Avocado Spread
Every few months, my family gets together with a Latin group of friends and their families for a pot luck.
This winter it was our turn. As tradition goes, the host brings the main dishes to the table and the others bring the rest. I eagerly announced my plans to share Mexican casseroles, also called cazuelas, budines or pasteles. The Mexicans couldn’t hide their joy- “Pati! De veras? Budin Azteca? Cazuela de Tamal?!”- and quickly thought of other “very” Mexican sides to pair with them. The Argentines and Costa Ricans tried to understand what “Mexican casserole” meant and whether it was supposed to be any good. The Americans in the group (though they consider themselves Latin) were clearly not excited about it.
No doubt about it, casseroles have had their ups and downs in culinary history. Their weakest stand seems to have been in the United States, after being fashioned into “two-step-many-can” versions in the 1930 and ’40s. But think of all the bright stars in the casserole universe: French cocottes enveloped in mother sauces; British potpies encrusting fillings as wet as British weather; irresistible Italian lasagnas layered with pasta; Peruvian causas with seasoned meat encased in mashed potatos; Greek spanakopitas with an extra-savory cheese-spinach mix covered with phyllo dough; Middle Eastern moussakas stacked with layers of eggplant; and the not-so-well-known, yet gloriously tasty Mexican cazuelas…
Continue reading Make It, Freeze It, Take It: The Mexican Casserole
Make It, Freeze It, Take It: The Mexican Casserole
Barbacoa is one of those iconic Mexican foods.
Juicy, tender meat that falls off the bone, infused with a rustic, smoky flavor and a jungle like fragrance. It uses a cooking technique that began in ancient times, long before the Spanish arrived, and it lives on to this day across Mexico in places that specialize in making it. Of course, there are accessible homestyle versions too.
Abroad, so many people have heard of barbacoa and want to have a taste of the real thing. The people I’ve talked to that have tried it are dying to repeat the experience. In Mexico it has never ever gone out of fashion, and it is especially rooted in the central part of the country, where I grew up.
True, that barbacoa sounds much like barbeque. Though it is from a type of barbacoa that Americans got the idea to cook barbeque, it’s not the Mexican kind, but the Native American found here in the US, which used to be outdoors and above the ground. In Mexico we call ours barbacoa too (thanks to the Spanish!), but the Mexican way is completely different: the meat is wrapped tightly in banana leaves, cooked for many (so very many!) hours in an underground pit with an initial heating base of burning wood, walls of brick and smoldering rocks that are sealed with a kind of clay, and finally steamed and cooked overnight.
If you haven’t tried it, this is your chance to make it! And no, you don’t need an underground pit, there are ways to go about it and you can cook it away while you are tucked away in your bed…
Continue reading Lamb Barbacoa in Adobo
You can do fabulous things with pumpkins aside from spooky faces and pumpkin pie… Just ask any Mexican. We have a way with pumpkins.
Native to Mexico, pumpkins have been devoured there for centuries, in their entirety. The seeds are addicting as snacks, used as a hefty base for salsas, soups and sauces and more recently sprinkled on top of many dishes. The pumpkin meat is used for soups and stews, and along with the entire rind cooked in a piloncillo syrup, becoming a traditional favorite known as Tacha.
Yet there is something else you can make with those fall pumpkins: Mole!
An easy to make, silky textured and exquisite tasting mole sauce, that can bathe anything you can think of. From chicken to meat, fish, seafood and veggies; it all goes beautifully swaddled in it. I like it mostly with chicken or turkey, which is how I am most used to eating thick and rich Mole sauces….
So that you can try it too, here it goes.
Continue reading Pumpkin and Ancho Chile Mole
Red pozole, or Pozole Rojo, Jalisco style, has been my favorite pozole of all time. It is bold and gorgeous in every possible way. I am so attached to it, we even served it at our wedding.
For decades now, I’ve refused to replace it with another… And then, I tried a unique green version, Pozole Verde, Guerrero style. It has not surpassed my Pozole Rojo, but it is attempting to tie with it at my table. And that is a lot to say.
Treasured all around Mexico, pozole has many variations, mainly green, red and white. Each distinct and beautiful, and coincidentally, represent the colors of the Mexican flag. Since September is the month of Mexican independence and The Day of El Grito is just around the corner, there is no excuse not to find an excuse to celebrate! And in my mental Mexican dictionary, pozole equals celebration.
Continue reading Pozole: Try It Green!
This is by far, the best brisket I’ve ever had.
The meat chunks gain a nutty brown crust as they cook, yet as you take a bite they fall apart in your mouth. And the sauce, thick, a bit tart, a bit spicy and wholeheartedly rich, enhances the flavor of the meat. It is a dish with a flavor hard to forget: it has loads of personality.
It’s become the trump card I pull out for guests that love unusual and authentic flavors from Mexico. The best part of it is, the hardest part about making it, is waiting for the brisket to cook on its own.
I first tried a version of it in Santa Fé de la Laguna, Michoacán. A popular dish in that region, it goes by the name of Carne Enchilada. A young and knowledgeable Purépecha cook, Berenice Flores, showed me how to make it at her home. When my whole family sat down to eat it, we kept asking her for more corn tortillas to wipe the sauce clean off the plates.
Continue reading Brisket in Pasilla Chile and Tomatillo Sauce
It seems that many people find chicken boring.
I happen to find it fascinating.
Not only because chicken is friendly enough to let you take it wherever your imagination can go and because it can be the juiciest and crispiest meal, but also, because of that story my mother told me when I was growing up.
When my mom was about 10 years old, my grandmother who came to Mexico from Austria in her early twenties having survived years of war, turbulence and the loss of most of her family, taught my mom a serious lesson: you can survive most hardships in life if you know how to cook, she had said, and mostly, if you know how to cook chicken from scratch.
Cooking from scratch really meant from scratch. No nonsense. So my mom learned how to kill, pluck and cook chicken a thousand ways.