Tacos de rajas with queso cotija

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September 10, 2010Recipes8 Comments

Last week we had a guest instructor in cooking class, and he gave us a list of dishes to prepare over three hours: chiles rellenos, salsa de chile pasilla, fish wrapped in hoja santa and banana leaves, jalapeños en escabeche and rajas con queso cotija.

Out of all of them, the rajas were probably the least exciting. I love rajas (pronounced RAH-has) but what more can you learn about roasting, deveining and peeling poblano peppers, and then cutting them into strips? I’d already done it several times at home.

Instead, I chose to spend the class — where else — in front of the molcajete, grinding the chile pasilla salsa. I roasted my chiles and rehydrated them in boiling water, and then ground them to bits. (The key there: the chiles must be completely pliable. You can’t remove them from the water too soon.) I plopped one tomatillo after the other into the bowl and smooshed each one to death, while also trying to shield my apron from the splatter. (If you’re wondering why I used a partner’s molcajete instead of my own, it’s because I was too worried about a possible pumice aftertaste. I still haven’t seasoned the damn thing correctly.)

At the end of class, everyone got to take home a chile, one fish filet and the rajas in little plastic baggies. Back at our apartment, Crayton and I sat in front of the TV with a couple of beers and dug in.

I love to share with my husband, but the rajas were so good I wanted them all to myself. They had the sweetness of a roasted root vegetable, while the cheese gave the dish these bursts of saltiness, and a kind of sour, pastoral tang. Cotija is hard, crumbly cow’s-milk cheese that’s named after a town in Michoacán, where it’s manufactured; it is characteristically salty and slightly acidic.

The dish seemed hearty enough to work on its own as a taco filling. So I invited my friend Daniel over for dinner a few days ago and decided to make the rajas again. Right before he came over, I momentarily panicked: Was this going to work? Were the rajas too strong to serve on their own, with a few crumbly bits of cheese?

I made brown rice at the last minute, just in case we needed something bland. But everything turned out fine. The peppers were as sweet as I remembered, and I think the cheese actually helped mellow the dish out. I served the tacos with some of my leftover chile pasilla salsa and they were a hit.

Recipe below.

Tacos de rajas with queso cotija
Serves 4

Note: In Mexico, the freshest queso cotija is available at the tianguis or mercado. In the U.S., I’d try asking your local cheesemonger. (You can find queso cotija at Latino markets, but the packaged stuff isn’t that great, in my opinion.) If you can’t find it, you can substitute another crumbly, salty cheese.

Ingredients

8 poblano chiles
1 medium onion, cut in half around its equator, and then sliced into strips
125 grams queso cotija (about 1 cup), crumbled
Canola oil
Salt

Roast your chiles on a comal, or under a broiler, until they’ve become blackened and blistered on all sides.

Gather them into a plastic or paper bag and cover the bag with several dish towels, so they’ll sweat. (This makes the skin easier to peel.) Leave them there until they cool, perhaps 45 minutes. While the peppers are resting, cut your onion and set aside.

When the chilies have cooled, carefully remove them from the bag and peel off the skin with your fingers. Slice each chile open and remove the seeds and veins.

The damage, piled into my sink

Cut the chiles into thin strips. Some would say you might need a measurement (“How thin, Lesley?”), but I say, let’s break free from recipe restraints. Cut them into skinny strips like this:

Pile all your rajas into a bowl and set aside. Heat a few glugs of canola oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add your onion slices and fry until translucent. Then add the rajas. When the mixture has warmed, add salt to taste and pour the chiles into a bowl or serving platter. Toss with cheese crumbles. Serve with warm corn tortillas.

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8 Responses to “Tacos de rajas with queso cotija”
  1. Don Cuevas

    Lesley wrote:
    “but I say, let’s break free from recipe restraints.”

    The RLF (Recipe Liberation Front) salutes you!
    Today I’ll cook Crema de Papas con Quso y Chile Poblanos. (Soup).

    The cool, rainy weather demands it, and the Hot and Sour Soup got finished up last night.

    Saludos,
    Don Cuevas

  2. Joan Rulland

    I was so happy to see a food post today! I must be hungry. These sound delicious and your photos are great.

    How about a seasoning party for that molcajete? You provide the new molcajete, corn, beans, rice. And beer and tequila. The guests provide their arms. Everyone takes a turn grinding. It takes a village to season a molcajete, right?

    • Lesley

      Joan: I love this idea! I’m sure my friends would be down for it, although with the beer and the fun I’m guessing they’d probably stop grinding after five minutes. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that — if I wasn’t taking this cooking course, *I’d* stop grinding after five minutes.) A party would bring me that much closer to finishing. I may just do it…

  3. Anna Johnston

    These recipes are exciting, I love this sorta food & feel like I’m getting coached ‘across the oceans’ – thanks so much for sharing.

  4. et

    Sounds good.
    But “shield my apron from the splatter”? aren’t aprons for splatter?

    • Lesley

      Technically, yes. But mine is gleaming white and embroidered with my name. I hate messing it up. I’m not saying it makes sense, but there it is. I don’t care as much about my aprons at home. For some reason my cooking school apron is different.

  5. Tom

    I just stumbled on your blog, so apologies if I should keep scrolling through to see if you’ve talked about this. But my wife would like to take some cooking classes. She’s working full-time, so there’s limits to her availability But I’d be curious to hear what you are doing, specifically, and then if you have any knowledge of options out there… Tx

    • Lesley

      Hi Tom: I’m assuming you’re talking about cooking classes here in Mexico City? I do teach some classes as part of my culinary tourism business, Eat Mexico. You’re welcome to shoot me an email so we can talk about it further — lesley.tellez@gmail.com.

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