One of the things that I’m most enthusiastic about in what I do, is breaking down myths about Mexican food and also about Mexicans. One of the biggest misconceptions is that Mexican food is greasy, fatty, cheesy and overloaded in heavy amounts of condiments. Some of the dishes that crossed the Mexican border and have become popular in the US, have been re-interpreted and promoted by the US fast food industry. Yet, mega burrito bombs, nachos smothered in cheese, and sizzling fajitas with scoops of sour cream on top are things you will have a really hard time finding in Mexico.
One thing that surprises people who delve a bit more into the Mexican culinary world is how crazy we are about salads. Not taco salads, no, no, no… Wholesome salads that use vegetables and beans and grains and flowers and all kinds of dried chiles and herbs…
It may be that the Mexican use of the word salad “ensalada” doesn’t help much to spread this good information because we usually call “ensalada” when there is lettuce or leafy greens in it. This leaves out chayote en vinagre, calabacitas en escacheche (pickled zucchini salad), nopalitos, and a gazillion other salads named simply by their main ingredient.
Continue reading Hearty Bean & Corn Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette
Hearty Bean & Corn Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette
GREEN CHILAQUILES IN A ROASTED TOMATILLO SAUCE
18-5″ corn tortillas
2 pounds green tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Half of a large white onion
1 or 2 serrano or jalapeño chiles
1 garlic clove
2 or 3 cilantro sprigs
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for brushing tortillas
1/2 cup onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup queso fresco or cotija, or substitute with Farmer’s cheese or mild feta, crumbled
1/4 cup Mexican cream
To Prepare the Tortillas:
Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Cut the tortillas into 2-inch, bite-sized pieces, lightly brush with oil, sprinkle salt. Set them on a baking tray and bake in the oven until crispy, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let the pieces cool. Alternately, you can fry the tortilla pieces.
To Prepare the Tomatillo Sauce:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the tomatillos, onions, garlic and serrano chiles in a bowl. Add about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and rub all the ingredients until everything has a light coat of oil. Lay the ingredients in a baking tray. Sprinkle with salt.
Bake until tomatillos are soft and plump and all the ingredients look charred.
Let the ingredients cool. Add the charred vegetables, the cilantro and the broth to a blender and mix well.
Heat a pan over medium heat, adding one additional tablespoon of oil. When the oil is hot, add the sauce from the blender and finish cooking over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Season to taste.
When the sauce is hot, quickly but carefully add the tortillas. Stir the tortillas into the mixture so that they are fully coated with the sauce.
Serve the tortillas and salsa in a large platter, garnished with the sliced onions, crumbled Mexican queso fresco, drizzle with the cream, garnish with chopped onion and cilantro. Eat immediately.
WARM SWEET POTATO SALAD WITH CHORIZO
Ensalada Calientita de Camote y Chorizo
Makes 4 to 6 servings
3 lbs sweet potatoes (about 3 large sweet potatoes), peeled and cut into bite-size chunks
3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup orange juice, preferably freshly squeezed
1/2 tsp brown sugar
3/4 tsp kosher or sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 oz fresh, uncooked Mexican chorizo, casings removed and coarsely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded if less heat is desired
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the sweet potato pieces, once it comes back to a boil, reduce the heat to medium; simmer for about 10 minutes, until almost tender and a knife can go through without breaking a piece. Drain, and transfer to a baking dish large enough to hold the pieces almost in a single layer.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Whisk together orange juice, oil, sugar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes and toss to coat evenly. Roast for about 20 minutes, turning them after about 10 minutes, until the potato pieces have started to brown and the sauce has thickened. Remove from the oven.
Meanwhile, cook the chorizo in a medium skillet over medium-high heat; use a wooden spoon of spatula to break it into smaller pieces as it cooks. After 5 to 6 minutes, when it has nicely browned and crisped, use a slotted spoon to top the hot sweet potatoes.
Sprinkle the jalapeño, red onion and cilantro on top, and toss gently to combine. Serve warm.
There are countless versions of Pico de Gallo salsas. Their trademark is having ingredients that are fresh rather than cooked, and diced and chopped rather than pureed. This is the most common and well-known version.
It is also incredibly colorful!
Continue reading Pico de Gallo Salsa
Guacamole en Trozos
2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted and pulp cut into chunks or roughly mashed
3 tbsp white onion, finely chopped
1 chile serrano or jalapeño, or to taste, minced (seeding is optional)
2 tbsp cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
3 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tsp salt, more or less to taste
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and serve!
Though there are many kinds of avocado soups, this is my favorite. I tried it at the Mexican Ambassador’s residence a couple months ago. As Doña Rosita, the cook, heard me mmm, and mmm, and mmmmmmm all over again, she came out of the kitchen with a pen and a piece of paper ready to dictate her recipe.
What a surprise for such a tasty soup: just a handful of ingredients! Seems that what matters, again, is how you use them.
Doña Rosita told me she has tweaked her recipe through time. Also, she sometimes tops it with tortilla crisps, and sometimes with fresh croutons. Depends on the mood. But she always serves it with crumbled Queso Fresco. There you go! Another thing you can do with that Mexican Fresh Cheese, aside from a Green Salad and Enfrijoladas.
It is easy, tasty and sounds oh… so… fancy. Plus, it is wholesome. The only thing I added to Doña Rosita’s recipe, is some fresh lime juice. I couldn’t help it. So check it out, this is how it goes:
Continue reading Avocado Soup with Queso Fresco
Cilantro is also known by many names like culantro, coriander and even Chinese parsley. Although it didn’t originate in Mexico, it has grown such strong roots in its cuisine, to the point that its hard to think about Mexican cooking without it.
It has delicate, paper thin leaves and tender stems. Its deep green color tends to be shinny too.
It is used for countless foods including being a key ingredients of many salsas, guacamoles and pico de gallo. It is used to flavor beans, rice, salads, stews amongst some dishes. It is even placed frequently on the table in a bowl, just as an optional garnish for tacos, antojos and soups. In the last couple decades it has even become quite popular for smoothies and juices.
Continue reading Cilantro
When asked recently whether I was a collector of some sort, I thought of my grandmother’s cabinet that holds hundreds of elephant figurines — more than 60 years’ worth, from many places. And she’s still adding to the lot. So my response was no.
Then a few days later I realized that I am a collector: of foods tasted throughout my life, or at least the memories of them. This is especially true of salsas. I have countless papers scattered on my desk with notes about the names of them, the places I ate them, their ingredients, the cooks who made them and, when generously given, directions on how to re-create them.
When the mood strikes, I search to find that precise note (which may be in a coat pocket, bag or drawer). Or I sit down with eyes closed and try to remember the feel of the sauce.
When all else fails, I make one up.
Continue reading A True Mexican Collectible: Versatile Summertime Salsas…
A True Mexican Collectible: Versatile Summertime Salsas…