A Mexican immigrant cooking Thanksgiving and Hanukkah on the same night in the cold Eastern region of the United States may sound a bit odd to some. For me, it turns out to be an unexpected opportunity to bring all my pieces together. Which has my mind reeling about the just as unexpected possibilities for the menu.
See… ever since I can remember, I have felt like I am treading between worlds. The Mexican. The Jewish. The immigrant in the U.S. Not from here, not from there. Yet, as time goes by, the different parts of my identity feel increasingly solid, in all those worlds and their intersections. It turns out that where those intersections make the most sense is in the kitchen.
I admit, though, that I am a hopeless romantic. That’s why every year when my husband asks what I want for my birthday, I say: the most passionate love letter, ever. Haven’t seen it, since he has seen me everyday in one way or another for the past 17 years. So, when my birthday comes close, I offer to pack my bags and leave, just to pretend… so he can write that super duper passionate love letter.
Continue reading Potato, Sweet Potato and Granny Smith Latkes
FLUFFY PLANTAIN AND PECAN BREAD
Pan de plátano macho y nuez
Makes 1 10-inch loaf
1 1/2 sticks or 6 oz unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
2/3 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 pound ripe plantains, peeled, sliced, and roughly mashed (about 1 1/2 cups mashed)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch of salt
1 cup roughly chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter sides and bottom of the loaf pan and lightly dust it with flour; set it aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium-high speed for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until soft. Stir in the sugar and keep beating until fluffy. Beat in the eggs until well mixed.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Lower the speed on the mixer. Alternate between adding the plantains and the sifted dry ingredient mixture.
Add the vanilla and pecans and mix until thoroughly combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and gently place a piece of aluminum foil on top. Place the pan in the oven and cook for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for an additional 15 to 18 minutes, or until the top of the bread looks golden brown and puffed-out. If you inset a toothpick, it should come out moist but not wet.
CACTUS PADDLE TOSTADAS
Tostadas de nopales
3 tablespoons safflower or corn oil
3 pounds fresh nopales, rinsed, cleaned and diced; or, if canned, rinsed thoroughly
1/2 pound ripe tomato, chopped
3 tablespoons white onion, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped, optional
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped, seeding optional
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
Salt to taste
For the tostadas:
8 corn tostadas
1 cup refried beans
Garnishes of your choice: queso fresco, Mexican crema, avocado, salsa…
To Clean Fresh Cactus Paddles:
Rinse fresh cactus paddles under cold water, being careful not to prick your fingers with the small thorns on its surface. Using a vegetable peeler or small sharp knife, peel away the darker bumps where thorns grow, as well as the thorns, trying not to peel off all the outer dark green skin. Lay the paddles flat on a chopping board, then trim around approximately 1/4 inch of the edges and 1/2 inch of the thick base. Once cleaned, rinse and dice into 1/2-to-1-inch squares, to your liking.
To Use Cactus From A Can, Bag or Jar:
After you have removed the diced cactus from the jar or can, rinse it under water and drain well.
To Cook the Cactus:
Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a thick, large-sized skillet (one that has a lid) over medium-high heat. Add the diced cactus, stir in the salt and stir for a minute or two. Place the lid on the skillet.
Reduce the heat to medium and let the cactus cook and sweat for about 20 minutes, until it has exuded a gelatinous liquid that will begin to dry out (NOTE: If using cactus from a can or jar, already cleaned and cooked, just cook for an additional five minutes).
Take the lid off the skillet, stir and make sure most of that gelatinous substance has dried up. If it hasn’t, let the cactus cook for a few more minutes until it does. Let the cactus cool slightly. In a mixing bowl, toss the cactus with the tomato, onion, jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Like this, it can be eaten as a cactus paddle, nopal salad!
To Assemble the Tostadas:
Spread a layer of refried beans on each tostada. Spoon some the cooked cactus mixture on top, and add the garnishes of your choice. I add avocado slices, queso fresco, Mexican crema and salsa verde!
ZUCCHINI SOUP WITH TORTILLA CRISPS
Sopa de calabacita con totopos
Serves 4 to 6
1 tablespoon corn or safflower oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup white onion, chopped
1 cup leeks, white and light green parts, sliced
1 jalapeño chile, sliced in half, seeding optional
3 pounds green zucchini, ends removed, diced
5 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, more or less to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground, or more to taste
1 1/2 cups tortilla crisps or totopos, optional
1 cup oaxaca cheese, or mozarella, diced, optional
In a soup pot set over medium-low heat, add butter and oil. Once the butter bubbles, stir in the onion, leeks and jalapeño. Cook, stirring sporadically, until the onion has softened, its color has become translucent, and the edges are beginning to brown lightly, about 12 to 15 minutes.
Raise the heat to medium, incorporate the zucchini and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring here and there. Pour in the broth, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let it simmer for about 10 minutes, until the zucchini is thoroughly cooked and the soup has seasoned. Remove from the heat and let it cool slightly.
Place it all in the blender in batches and purée until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and let it thoroughly heat over medium heat. Serve very hot. Either spoon some diced cheese and totopos into each soup bowl right before eating, or let your guests add as much as they fancy.
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