Forget soy and tofu; these are authentic Mexican recipes where produce, fruits and vegetables are naturally the stars.
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.
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.
Plantanos Macho al Horno
Serves 2 to 4
2 ripe plantains
Salt or sugar to taste
Preheat the grill to medium heat or the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut a few small slits into the sides of the unpeeled, ripe plantains with a knife, since the plantains will expand as they cook. Individually wrap each plantain in aluminum foil and place them on the grill or in the oven. Let them cook for about 45 to 50 minutes, until they are soft and cooked through.
You know they are ready when they feel extremely soft to the touch and the sugar of the plantain has begun to caramelize. Open the aluminum foil, make a slit in the plantains, sprinkle with salt and sugar and eat them up!
Plantain and Refried Bean Quesadillas
Quesadillas de Plátano Macho con Frijolitos Refritos
Makes 6 to 8, 5″ quesadillas.
Place the whole plantains in a large pot filled with boiling water. Simmer, partially covered, for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are thoroughly cooked. Remove from the water and let cool. Peel the plantains, slice, and place in a food processor along with the sugar. Process until smooth. If the dough seems to soft and runny, you may add some all purpose flour to thicken it a bit. You may also let it sit in the refrigerator, covered, for a half an hour so it will harden too.
Make round balls of about 1 to 2″. Press in between plastic rounds in a tortilla press or roll with a roller until you get a flat disk of about ¼”. Place about a tablespoon of refried beans right in the center and fold like a turnover. Press down along the edges so they will be tightly sealed.
In a large deep skillet set over medium heat, heat enough oil to have about an inch high. About 3 to 4 minutes later, when it is hot but not smoking, insert the quesadillas a few at a time. The oil should be bubbling around the quesadillas as you do. Let them fry, about 2 minutes on each side until nicely tanned and lightly crisped. Don’t let them brown too much. Remove them and place on a paper towel to drain excess of oil.
Serve with your favorite salsa.
Quesadillas–the perfect marriage of heaven and earth, where the basic, simple tortilla meets the ecstasy of cheese. If you can find the right cheese, that is… So, where do you find great Mexican cheeses in the US? If you can’t find Oaxaca Cheese or Manchego, what can you use instead? What about Monterey Jack or Cheddar as a substitute?
In this episode I interview the fabulous Joe Yonan (who just came out with an equally fabulous cookbook!), who gives us a lot of cheesy advise.
Would it shock you to know that you don’t technically need to stuff cheese inside for it to qualify as an authentic Mexican quesadilla?
Each time I go back to Mexico City, even before the plane lands, I know there are some formal plans that can never, ever, be messed around with. They are all with my father and they all involve eating in the same places. Each single time.
One of the places is El Bajío. If you know my father, you know he doesn’t let me order. You also know that he knows the Restaurant manager, waiters, bar servers and valet parking attendants by name. And they all know him too.
Continue reading Bossed Around at El Bajío: Plantain Quesadillas
During the years I’ve been teaching at the Mexican Cultural Institute I’ve been hesitant to demonstrate and serve Chiles en Nogada. There are many reasons…
First, one of my goals has been to open a window into the world of Mexican cooking in an accessible way. I’ve introduced basic ingredients and dishes along with bits of their history, fun facts, cooking methods and new spins, so people can become familiar with this cuisine and feel empowered to play with its basics in their own kitchens.
No sense in teaching how to make something incredibly complex with tons of new ingredients, which can be quite overwhelming, right?
Continue reading OK… Chiles in Nogada, at last!
Ay, ay, ay! Patita, espérate mamacita! My nanny repeated, as she snatched the hot plantain tightly wrapped in aluminum foil, from my hands. Her hands were more resistant, she insisted, as they were older and had cooked so much. She would hold my chosen package with an open hand, so the camotero (sweet potato street cart man, who also sold plantains) could tear up the foil. As the steam flew up to the skies, he poured a more-than-any-child-could-wish-for amount of sweetened condensed milk… and so it fell, sweet ounce, by thick ounce, onto that moist, rich, filling and immensely satisfying treat. Sheer joy, that was.
I devoured it in what seemed a couple bites, just to lick the last but yummiest remains from the crumbled foil. There we were, standing on the street corner where my family lived, mischievously laughing: it was already getting dark, almost dinnertime, and no, no, no, I wasn’t supposed to be having any. Oh dear, how I miss that woman! Now every time I eat a plantain, I get a sparkle of that sheer joy.
Continue reading Three tasty ways to eat ripe plantains