These home-style dishes are a staple at the small restaurants known as “fondas” in Mexico — and delicious inspiration for busy cooks in American homes today. Make them once, and they’ll become easy to make but special treats in your own kitchen.
TRES LECHES CAKE
Pastel de tres leches
Serves 10 to 12
9 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 14oz can La Lechera sweetened condensed milk
1 12oz can evaporated milk
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the Topping:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×13-inch pan, lining the bottom with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the pan.
Pour the egg whites into the bowl of your mixer and beat on medium-high speed for 4 to 5 minutes, or until they hold soft peaks. Slowly stir in the sugar and continue beating until they hold harder or stiffer peaks. Turn off the mixer and, with a spatula, move the egg white mixture into a large mixing bowl.
Rinse the mixer bowl and its whisk. Now, pour the egg yolks into the bowl and beat on medium-high speed for about 5 to 6 minutes, or until the yolks become creamy and puffy and their color has toned down to an almost cream color rather than a loud yellow. Stir in the vanilla and continue beating for another minute.
Pour the egg yolk mixture onto the egg white mixture and, with a spatula, in circular motions, combine them into a homogeneous single batter. Do so gently, trying not to lose too much volume gained from beaten egg whites. Fold in the flour, scraping the bowl with the spatula so that all the flour is well mixed.
Pour batter into the prepared cake pan and place into the oven for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. It can be a bit moist, but not wet. The top of the cake should be tanned or golden brown.
Once it cools down, turn it onto a platter. Remove parchment paper, cover the top with an upside-down platter and invert again. The platter should be large enough to hold the cake and the vanilla sauce you are about to prepare. Using a fork, or two, poke holes all over the cake so that it will better absorb the vanilla sauce.
In a mixing bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, milk, and vanilla extract. Pour the vanilla sauce over the cake. It may appear like too much sauce, but it will all be absorbed!
In the bowl of your mixer, whip up the heavy cream with the confectioners’ sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture holds up stiff peaks. Spread the whipped cream all over the already-wet cake and place it in the refrigerator. You can decorate the cake with berries or any other topping of your choice.
MEATBALLS IN CHIPOTLE SAUCE
Albóndigas al chipotle
Serves 8 to 10
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
2 pounds ripe tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons white onion, chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, or to taste
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, optional
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup chicken broth
2 to 3 fresh cilantro sprigs, or to taste
In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground meat with the eggs, minced garlic, breadcrumbs, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Mix thoroughly with your hands or a spatula.
Place tomatoes in a saucepan and cover with water; simmer over medium-high heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until cooked through and mushy.
In a blender, add the cooked tomatoes along with 1/4 cup of their cooking liquid, 2 garlic cloves, white onion, the sauce from the chipotle chiles in adobo and, if desired, one whole seeded chipotle chile. Purée until smooth.
Pour the oil into a large soup pot and place over medium-high heat. Once hot, pour in the puréed tomato mix. It will sizzle and jump, that is ok! Let it simmer, with the lid ajar, anywhere from 6 to 8 minutes, or until it has changed its color to a deeper red, thickened in consistency and lost its raw flavor. Add the chicken broth and salt to taste and reduce heat to medium low.
Place a small mixing bowl with water to the side of the soup pot with the simmering tomato broth. Wet your hands and start to make the meatballs, one by one. They should be anywhere from 1 to 2″. Gently place the meatballs in the simmering tomato broth.
Once you have shaped all the meatballs, add the cilantro sprigs to the pot, then simmer over medium-low heat for 25 to 30 minutes.
Serve hot with a side of Mexican avocado slices, some warm corn tortillas and, if desired, frijoles de olla or white rice and plantains.
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.