Lately, whenever people ask me, “How’s New York?” I answer, “Fine.” Then I realize that might sound negative, so I add, “Good! Fine. You know. Good.” What I really want to say is: I’m not sure if I like this place. Yesterday the temperature hit 51 degrees, it hit me that maybe it was just winter that I didn’t like. In the sunshine, with the slush finally melted and people milling about running errands, untethered by scarves and jackets, my neighborhood seemed like a real neighborhood again. People walked a little slower on the sidewalks. The open doorway at the Chinese grocery store around the corner suddenly seemed more inviting, as did the roast ducks hanging in the window at Shun Wang. Even the eight-minute walk to the 7 train seemed brighter, maybe literally because of the sun. All of this happened to coincide with another discovery: New York actually gets pretty great oranges and pineapple. I’ve grumbled much of the winter about the city’s lack of fruit variety (sorry if you had to hear my discourse on apples), but then I discovered that my local bodega carried guavas, the kind that hit you with their perfume immediately. Another bodega carried fresh, juicy pineapple in February. Combined with a bag of juice oranges that I bought on Fresh Direct, I decided to make a juice yesterday in the blender, reminiscent of Mexico’s streets. The guavas weren’t quite ripe this time around, so I used orange, pineapple and grapefruit. (I don't have a juicer, so I hand-squeezed the orange and grapefruit, making sure both were at room temperature. It was easy, and actually pretty cathartic.) The juice was perfectly sweet and tart, with a bit of pleasant bitterness from the grapefruit. Think I may be on my way to loving the city again. Homemade Orange Pineapple Juice Makes about 3 1/2 to four cups (enough for at least four juice glasses) Ingredients Juice of 1/2 grapefruit (about 1/2 cup) 2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice (about 5 to 6 oranges) 2 cups freshly chopped pineapple Directions 1. Combine all ingredients in a blender, and blend on high. 2. Strain into a pitcher or airtight container. Serve immediately, or chilled.
These migas caught my eye on the Homesick Texan blog a few days ago. Her recipe called for black-eyed peas, and it was already New Year’s Eve and I didn’t have any. (Does that make me a bad honorary Tejana?) I did have black beans, though. And a good friend from Austin who’d be joining me for breakfast on New Year’s Day, which meant we must have migas come hell or high water. I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t made a big pan of migas from scratch before. With my friend Shaw's guidance and the Homesick Texan recipe, it wasn't hard. We amped up the number of tortillas so the final result bulged with chewy fried tortilla strips. We topped the migas with the lightly acidic bean salad, as called for in the original recipe, and then we added roasted tomato salsa on top of that, because, why not? We did not have guac or cheese on the side. But we did have mimosas. This was truly the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time. Thanks, Shaw, for throwing this together with me. And Happy New Year to y'all! Black bean migas with roasted tomato salsa Adapted from The Homesick Texan’s black-eyed pea migas Serves 3-4 For the black bean salad: 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed in cold water About 1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half 3 tablespoons minced red onion, rinsed in cold water and drained 1/2 of a large serrano chile, minced with seeds (or more if you want it very spicy) Juice of 1 large lime 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste For the migas: About 8 slices bacon (this ended up being one small package; I used thick-cut) 8 day-old corn tortillas (our tortillas were actually about two weeks old (!), purchased awhile back from the tortillería, but they weren’t moldy and worked fine) About 1/2 cup neutral oil for frying 7 eggs For the roasted tomato salsa: 4 plum (known in Mexico as guaje) tomatoes 2 thick slices red onion 2 serrano chiles 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, or to taste 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste 1. Cook the bacon, and drain on paper towels to cool. Crumble and set aside. 2. Add the drained black beans, grape tomatoes, red onion, minced serrano chile and lime juice in a bowl, and mix well. Add salt, using the quantity I listed above or to taste. Set bean salad aside. 3. On a comal or nonstick skillet, char the tomatoes, onion slices and serranos, turning frequently until blackened and soft. 4. Place tomatoes and chiles ONLY in the blender jar. Liquify until chunky and saucy, and pour into a bowl. Dice the charred red onion. Stir onion and chopped cilantro into the salsa. Add the salt a little at a time, tasting as you go to make sure you like the result. Once the salsa is done, you can place it on the table, assuming no one will eat it until breakfast time. 5. Cut the tortillas into rectangles about 1 inch wide and two inches long. 6. Heat the oil in a large skillet; it should come to about 1/4-inch deep. 7. Once the oil is hot -- and I love Homesick Texan’s tip on sticking a wooden spoon in the pan to test if it’s ready -- add a handful of the tortilla strips in an even layer. Fry until stiff and golden but not crunchy-tortilla-chip crisp, which could take perhaps four minutes, depending on your stove and how hot the oil is. Drain on paper towels, and repeat with the remaining strips. (It took me about three batches in a 12-inch skillet.) 8. Once you’re done with your last batch, drain out the oil into a small cup or bowl, leaving a little bit of a film with which to fry your eggs. 9. Beat the eggs into another bowl, and have the bacon ready. 10. Heat the pan over low heat. (Again, only you know your stove -- heat the pan as if you were cooking scrambled eggs.) Add the bacon and warm briefly. Then add eggs, and top with tortilla strips. Stir everything gently, folding the eggs over the tortilla strips and bacon as they cook. (Turn down the flame if you notice the eggs start to brown.) I added a few pinches of salt here as well. 11. Once eggs are cooked, remove the pan from the flame and spoon the bean salad mixture over the top. 12. Serve directly from the pan, in a trivet placed on the table. Drizzle on the roasted tomato salsa. (If you have a Texas-shaped salsa bowl, even better.)
Up until this year, I wasn't quite sure what the typical Day of the Dead Foods were in Mexico, beyond the traditional pan de muerto, candied sweets and hot chocolate. I had an idea of the sweets, but what about the savory stuff? I did some research and it turns out that Day of the Dead foods vary across the country. According to the excellent Sabor a Mexico magazine, which publishes recipes and articles about Mexican culinary traditions, savory Day of the Dead foods can include tamales (both zacahuil-size in
Puebla the Huasteca and the smaller Mucbi Pollo in Yucatán), enchiladas, barbacoa, pozoles, mole, caldos, atoles, and the requisite candied sweets and pan de muerto, in all shapes and sizes. The foods seem to be as varied as the styles of altars. Many of these regional Mexican foods haven't quite made an inroads in popular American home kitchens yet. But here are five Mexican recipes I found that would do perfectly well for any Day of the Dead meal in the U.S. The holiday is celebrated in Mexico mostly on Nov. 1 and 2. 1. Champurrado. Champurrado, generally speaking, is a thick drink made from masa diluted in water, chocolate and cinnamon. Grandmothers and food vendors in Mexico City, according to Ricardo Muñoz Zurita's Mexican food dictionary, insist that real champurrado contains only water, piloncillo, cinnamon and pinole, a non-nixtamalized, toasted corn. The drink is also made in various other ways across Mexico. Muy Bueno Cookbook's recipe calls for making it with masa harina, star anise, milk, cinnamon and piloncillo. 2. Pumpkin and Chorizo Tamales. This is my own recipe from a few years back, which creates small, sweet-and-savory tamales that are perfect for breakfast. (Or placing on an altar.) I used nixtamalized coarse-ground harina de maíz that I bought at Mercado de la Merced in Mexico City, but if you don't have access to that, any coarse-ground masa harina for tamales would work fine. The chorizo here is also more of a Spanish style, not the softer Northern Mexican style, but of course you're free to use what you like best. 3. Mole. The Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City actually has the artist's mole recipe on a billboard. Blogger Tasty Trix took a picture on her last visit and then made the dish at home. Trix herself says: "I absolutely fell in love with the food in Mexico City, and I knew when I got home I wanted to try to recreate as many of the wonderful dishes I had as possible. ...It was beautifully complex and there were notes of bitter chocolate, cinnamon, peppers, and nuts." I'd highly recommend the cookbook Frida's Fiestas if you're interested in learning more about dishes of the time period, and what Frida might've eaten. 4. Calabaza en Tacha (Candied Squash). Calabaza en tacha is a typical fall dessert in Central Mexico, comprising squash that's been cooked in a sugar syrup until it softens into creamy pudding. In Mexico City markets, you'll often see a whole small squash poked with tiny holes, shellacked in syrup, a dark-brown wedge sitting out for passersby to try. (Vendors will offer a taste with a small spoon. You must try it if you're visiting.) There aren't many recipes for calabaza en tacha in English on the Internet, but I really liked Spicie Foodie's version, which contains molasses and cardamom. 5. Pan de Muerto. The most well-known Day of the Dead food, pan de muerto is a sugary, buttery bread that's lightly flavored with orange blossoms (agua de azahar), and draped with what are supposed to be knobby "bones" on top. I love Pati Jinich's step-by-step recipe. Or here's the version I recreated from Fany Gerson's My Sweet Mexico. Related: How to Make a Día de los Muertos Altar
Last week I went to a food fair near Madison Square Park, and I was super excited to try a deep-fried Brussels sprout taco I’d read about online. The taco, which I gobbled up in about three bites, was fine enough. It had creamy sauce and pureed beans, and some pickled onions. But it wasn’t what I was envisioning in my head. I’d wanted just plain old fried Brussels sprouts. Maybe their papery insides lightly charred. Some bacon mixed in. And a simple, good salsa on top. I don’t fault the taco stand for not selling this, by the way. As Roberto Santibañez told the New York Times recently, if you put one item in a tortilla and try to sell it as a taco, no one in New York will buy it. In my house, though, we are free to taquear whatever we want. Yesterday I fried up the Brussels sprouts and bacon (splattering my yoga shirt in the process -- note to self, do not fry bacon in yoga clothes), and while everything cooked, I charred our last CSA tomato on the comal. I whipped up a quick toasted chile de árbol salsa, then spritzed the hot, crispy Brussels sprouts with lime juice and a few spoonfuls of the red stuff. One bite and it was exactly what I’d been hoping for: sweet, acidic, tangy. Not exactly unfussy, but perfect for me. Fried Brussels Sprout and bacon tacos, with charred tomato salsa Makes 6-8 tacos Serves 4 for a light appetizer, or 2 for dinner with leftovers Notes: You can make the salsa the day before, to save some time. For the charred tomato salsa: 1 large, ripe beefsteak tomato (about 1/2 lb.) 5 chile de árbol 1 medium-sized clove garlic, unpeeled 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste For the fried Brussels sprout tacos: Just under 1/4 lb. thick-sliced bacon (I used about 9 slices); or lardons 1 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts, rinsed and thorughly dried About 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed A package of corn tortillas Lime wedges for serving 1. First, the salsa: Heat a comal or nonstick skillet to medium-low. When hot, place the tomato in the center, and the garlic clove and chile de árbol on the side. (Sides of pan = less direct heat = less chance of burning.) Turn the chiles frequently until they start to release their spicy aroma, about 30 seconds to a minute. Remove chiles from the comal to cool. Meanwhile, turn the tomato and garlic until they're soft and blackened in spots. Pluck off and discard the chile stems. Crumble or tear the chiles -- with their seeds, if you like it hot -- into the blender jar. Peel and roughly chop the garlic clove, and add that, too. Blitz until minced. Quarter the tomato and add to the blender jar with one or two tablespoons of water. (Or none.) Once salsa reaches your desired texture, pour into a bowl with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Let sit while you fry the sprouts. 2. Then, the tacos: Cook the bacon over medium-low heat in a large cast-iron skillet. Alternately, you can use this very cool water method from Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats, which ensures that the bacon cooks evenly. While the bacon cooks, remove any funny-looking outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts. Cut off the hard end nubs, and slice them neatly in half. Set aside. Cool the cooked bacon on a plate lined with paper towels. In the same pan as you fried the bacon -- yep, we're gonna use that grease -- add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and heat over a medium flame. When hot, use tongs to carefully place Brussels sprouts cut-side down, in one layer. They should sizzle. Don't move them. And don't leave the kitchen or start washing dishes, because these things cook quickly. Turn them once the edges start to darken, about 3 minutes. Remove from pan once they're dark-golden on both sides. Repeat with the rest of the Brussels sprouts, draining each batch on paper towels. (This took me about three batches in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. I really need a larger one. Santa?) Chop the cooled bacon and toss with sprouts. Warm the tortillas on the stove or the microwave. (I usually start with two per person, for a light meal.) Place tortillas in a cloth or basket to keep warm, and serve Brussels sprouts and bacon immediately, passing lime wedges and salsa.
I’m generally an guacamole purist. Or really, an avocado purist: pass me a few slices of ripe avocado, a sprinkle of salt and a crispy tortilla, and I am perfectly happy. But when Roberto Santibañez’s PR team passed me a recipe for grape guac a few weeks ago -- smooth and crunchy, it promised; spicy and cool at the same time -- I thought, oh hell, why not. The thing is, this summer was hot in New York. Like sweaty Texas hot. Sit-on-the-air-conditioner hot. Now the temps have cooled off, but when it was hot, all I could think about was cold things. Like grapes straight from the refrigerator. The grapes in this dish, thankfully, don't overshadow the avocado at all. They actually add a light fruitiness and a toothsome texture that I didn't know could exist in guacamole. You really get all the flavors in one here: sweet, salty, acidic, spicy. I baked up some corn tortilla chips (my usual way is to cut tortillas into triangles with kitchen shears, then bake them at around 400F until golden brown) and munched happily through the afternoon. Recipe below, while you can still find grapes at the stores. Also, if anyone’s wondering, I’ve found fantastic Mexican avocados at bodegas in Queens. Grape Guacamole Adapted slightly from Roberto Santibañez’s recipe Serves at least four as an appetizer Note: I've listed two types of grapes here because that's what the original recipe called for, but I don't see any particular reason to use two. You'd still get the sweetness and texture with just one variety. The original recipe also called for 3 avocados, but since I was only feeding Crayton and me, I scaled down. I also made this in the molcajete, which allows you to create a paste out of the onion/chile mixture. Sort of like this: If you plan to mix yours with a good old-fashioned bowl and spoon, I'd make sure to finely chop the onion and jalapeño, so you don't have any big onion or chile parts sticking out. Ingredients 2 tablespoons chopped white onion 1/3 of a large jalapeño, with seeds, chopped roughly (you can also use serrano) 2 ripe
HaasHass avocados 10 large red grapes, cut into quarters 1/3 cup small green grapes 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a smidge more (if using table salt, start with less) juice of 1/2 large lime (or to taste) Directions In a molcajete, if you're using one, add the chopped onion, jalapeño, and just a pinch or two of salt. Grind into a paste. (Alternately, you can mix the items in a regular mixing bowl.) Cut the avocados in half, remove the pit, then cut each half into cubes. Add to chile-onion paste and mix. You can use the back of a spoon or the pestle (tejolete) from your molcajete to crush some of the cubes a bit, just so it doesn't look so uniform and perfect. Stir in the grapes, reserving some for the garnish if you like. Taste and add lime juice, and more salt as needed. Serve with chips, tortillas, or whatever you want.
I have a guest post today from my friend Macarena Hernández. She told me this story while I was hanging out with her in San Antonio recently. Agua mineral preparada is one of my antojos. They’re very easy to find in the Rio Grande Valley, and along the border, at drive-through stores. Depending on where you go, they’re made differently. Some people put chamoy in them. Others, like at my favorite drive-through in Palmview, Texas, they actually put in stalks of celery, long shreds of carrot and dill pickles -- like hamburger dill pickle slices. It’s really good. On top of that, obviously, they put lemon, chilito (I prefer Tajin) and salt. And on top of the styrofoam cup lid, they put small cubes of jicama with sal, limón y chile, with toothpicks. So you get a little jicama salad on top of your agua mineral preparada. My family, for the most part, loves agua mineral preparada, especially after carne asadas, when we’ve had too much red meat, too much arroz and frijoles. It feels like a good digestive drink. When I make it at home, I don’t complicate it for myself. I buy Topo Chico. I’m so partial to Topo Chico because the carbonation levels are just right. (Lesley interjects: IT’S INSANE.) It’s insane. And I don’t think you can have an agua mineral preparada without insane levels of carbonation. I’ve tried it with Perrier or whatever, the American ones, and it just wasn’t an agua mineral preparada. No matter how much limón or salt or chile I put in there it didn’t work. Everyone likes their agua mineral preparada differently. It really depends on how much limón, sal and chile you can take. Depending on who I’d make it for in my family, the drink could look orange, or it could have just a few speckles of chilito and salt. And then I mix it gently, because I don’t want it to lose any carbonation. I like to drink it with a straw -- it just goes down better. If anyone’s visiting me, this is one thing I have them try. Not everyone likes it. If you don’t like salty, lemony, spicy drinks, you’re not going to like this. My personal favorite raspa is a diablito, which is basically lemon juice, salt and chile, so for me it’s basically a mineral water version of a raspa de chile limón. [Lesley interjects: I think this tastes like a cross between a limonada and a michelada, without the beer. Or it tastes like these fruit salads that you have in Mexico, with the cucumber and jicama with lime and chile powder. It has that sort of freshness to it.] Agua Mineral Preparada Serves 1 Macarena's notes: For the mineral water, I don’t recommend anything except Topo Chico. (I like Peñafiel, but only as a thirst quencher, not for my agua mineral preparada. And I have tried all kinds -- even making this in Europe. They’re too flat. If Topo Chico is reading this, they should send me cases. I do spend a lot of money on Topo Chico mineral water.) You can find Topo Chico and Tajin in South Texas at almost any HEB. Note that Tajin does have salt in it. Ice is essential. This drink needs to be cold. Ingredients 1 cup of ice Juice of 2 yellow lemons Juice of 1 good-sized lime (not key lime) 1 6.5 ounce bottle Topo Chico Tajin (I use about 9 shakes of the Tajin bottle -- this might be too much; start with less and taste) Salt to taste Optional garnishes: Jicama cubes Sliced dill pickles Thinly sliced carrot sticks Thin slices of celery 1 or 2 saladitos (dried, salted plums or apricots) Directions Fill a pint glass with ice. Add citrus juice. Pour in Topo Chico, and then the Tajin. (If adding saladitos, add at this point, before the salt.) Taste for salt, add to your preference, then add jicama, dill pickles, carrots and celery, if using. Stir gently to preserve the carbonation levels in the drink. Macarena Hernández, who grew up in La Joya Texas, is a professor at the University of Houston- Victoria and a multimedia journalist.
I have a guest post today from Laura Elliott, an American expat living in Mexico City. Her new blog is called American Chilanga, and it's about her adventures in the city that we both love. In this post, she writes about her mother's pozole, a warm, comforting dish that's only slightly related to Mexico City's version. The rainy season has arrived in Mexico City, and cravings for a nice bowl of soup tend to accompany me on these soggy afternoons. Lately, I’ve been longing for pozole — a pre-Colombian hominy, pork, and chile based stew. In Mexico City, it’s served with garnishes of shredded lettuce, sliced radishes, dried oregano, pepper flakes, chicharrón, tostadas and fresh limes. Delicious and satisfying, it’s not quite like the dish I had with my family on Christmas Eves, while growing up in southern Colorado. My mom's pozole is always served with warm flour tortillas on the side and cheese melted on top. She also stirs Southwestern green chiles into the broth. There are actually many ways to make pozole, which vary region by region, both in Mexico and throughout the southwest United States (where it’s often spelled with an ‘s,’ posole). My mother created her own recipe, modifying the instructions she found on the back of a package of dried hominy, and tweaking the dish over the years. I never questioned our Christmas Eve tradition as a young girl; we often left some pozole for Santa alongside the milk and cookies. Now I consider it a special detail to my background, which I use to try to convince my friends in Mexico that despite my blond hair, green eyes, mainly German descent and foreign accent, I am clearly more Mexican than they think. I’m not sure if they believe me. Nevertheless, my mom says pozole “seemed to fit our family.” She must have been right. The dish has been what’s requested and expected ever since it replaced my grandmother’s clam chowder over 25 years ago. The addition of roasted Hatch New Mexico Green Chiles is a special treat -- my mom always keeps a supply of them in the freezer, as they are not available for sale year round. Eager to recreate a memory of home, I recently set out to make my mother’s pozole. The ingredients filled my kitchen with earthy aromas, blending together as the soup cooked. It was hard not to try a spoonful, just to make sure the dish wasn't missing anything... and then maybe one more spoonful after that. More than three hours later, once the soup was done, I dipped a tortilla into the broth. The first bite warmed me up instantly. The hominy was soft and savory, and the slow-cooked meat fell apart in my mouth. Hearty and smoky, this soup seemed rooted to the land. My mother’s Pozole Recipe Pozole is fairly simple, but it takes time. If planning to have it for dinner, you’ll probably want to start this in the morning or the day before, especially if using dried hominy, which needs to soak first and can then take from three to three and half hours to cook before you start to add the other ingredients. Make sure the kernels have been nixtamalized, which is the process of boiling the corn with calcium hydroxide, which adds essential vitamins and nutrients. If buying hominy in the U.S., it has usually already gone through this process. You can also find it canned, but my mom would not recommend it! In Mexico, I found nixtamalized hominy in bags with water sold in the cheese section of the supermarket. You might find dried kernels that are simply plain maize, so double check the package or ask the vendor. Ingredients 2 cups dried white hominy* (see note) 6 cups water (to start) 1 pound lean pork shoulder, cubed ½ cup minced white onion 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 tablespoon each: dried oregano, red chile powder, crushed red pepper flakes, ground cumin 1 cup sliced roasted green chiles (Hatch New Mexico if you can, but Anaheim or Poblano also work fine. Use canned roasted chiles if that’s what you can find.) Directions Prepare the dried hominy as you would dried beans: soak it overnight and rinse it before adding it to a pot of about six cups of water. Bring water to a boil and then simmer until the kernels start to burst open. (If using hominy from a can or bag that is packaged in water, you can skip the soaking, but still cook it until the kernels start to open before adding the other ingredients; it will just take less time. In this case you won’t need to start with the full 2 cups. Try 1 ½ cups instead.) Add pork, onion, garlic and spices. Simmer for several hours -- mine took between three and four -- adding water and additional spices according to taste. Be sure to simmer thoroughly after adding water to avoid a diluted taste. (You want all the flavors to taste as if they've melded together and cooked for a long while.) Add the green chile about a half an hour before serving. You may lose some heat and flavor if you cook the chiles too long. Serve with your choice of cheeses and warm flour tortillas.
Since moving to New York, Crayton and I have suffered from intense salsa deprivation. It took me awhile to start making my own because I kept looking for chile de árbol, the go-to red table salsa ingredient in Mexico City. But the chiles de árbol in Queens always looked stemless and old and sad. The best-looking dried chile in New York, hands down, is the chipotle -- a fact no doubt tied to the large numbers of Poblano immigrants who live here. (Qué viva Puebla York!) The chipotle is hugely popular in Puebla. It's served in salsa with tacos árabes, and made into sweet-and-spicy rajas that are then slathered on tortas. Fondas serve little bowls of chipotle en escabeche to accompany any meal. The chipotle is a dried jalapeño that's been smoked using mesquite, and actually the smoking technique was developed in Puebla in prehispanic times, says Alonso Hernández, the chef at Puebla's well-known Mesón Sacristía restaurant and an intense researcher of Mexican food. The jalapeño itself is native to Veracruz. The chipotle is spicier than an ancho or guajillo and measures about two inches long, with blackberry-colored skin. In New York they're often sold loose in the produce section of the supermarket. Whole Foods in Midtown East carries them (I bought four for 30 cents), and so does Met Food in Jackson Heights on 37th Ave. The Mexican bodegas I've visited in Corona and Elmhurst tend to offer huge bags of them, which works if you've got space to store them. Making this salsa -- a fresh salsa that requires no charring or boiling -- takes about 10 minutes, if you don't count the part where the chiles are soaking in water. For this batch, I seeded the chiles (you don't have to, if you want more heat), then soaked them, then zapped them in the blender with two very ripe tomatoes and a small amount of onion and garlic. The result was smoky and garlicky and tart, and, after the addition of some salt, wholly excellent with the homemade spinach empanadas I’d made. (Is it possible that the salsa overshadowed the empanadas? Totally.) I've heard lots of people already complain about finding good Mexican food in New York, but it’s possible to make your own at home, using ingredients you can find at most grocery stores. If the Poblano Yorkers can do it, you can, too. Quick Chipotle Salsa Note: What’s known as the chipotle in New York is often called a mora in Mexico City. The rougher, leathery chipotle meco is a little harder to find at the bigger supermarkets here, but you can get it at the smaller bodegas at the edge of Jackson Heights and in Corona. If you use the meco, the salsa won't be as hot -- Hernández says the meco is actually boiled first before it's smoked, which removes some of the heat. This salsa keeps in an airtight container for at least 5 days. Ingredients 4 chipotle chiles (see note) 1 heaping tablespoon diced onion 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped 2 small tomatoes, cut into quarters (I used hothouse tomatoes, similar to the ones seen here) 1/2 teaspoon plus one pinch salt Directions 1. Using kitchen shears or a knife, make an incision in each chipotle and scoop out the seeds. Fill a small bowl with hot water and add chiles. Let soak for 15 minutes, until skin is plump and pulpy. Once the chiles are fully hydrated, don't discard your chile water just yet, in case you might need it later. 2. Chop chiles roughly. Place onion, garlic and chopped chiles in a blender jar and pulse a few times. Add half of tomatoes and pulse once or twice. Then add the remaining tomatoes and pulse again a few times, until salsa is a little smoother, but still with some texture. (If you over-blend it's not the end of the world.) If you like your salsa thinner, now is the time to add in a tablespoon of that chile water you saved. 3. Pour salsa into a bowl and taste, just so you have an idea of what this tastes like without salt. Then add your salt to taste -- I thought it was perfect with 1/2 teaspoon plus a pinch. Serve immediately.
For the past few weeks, meal-planning has made me anxious. I couldn’t think of any dish that would make me feel how I used to in the kitchen -- relaxed, happy, a gusto. This is probably because our temporary kitchen had dull knives, no blender and two tiny pots that held four cups of liquid max. One can only make so many two-pot soups before wanting to throw herself into a heap on the floor. Grocery shopping stressed me out, too, because everything in New York is so damn expensive. I read labels and checked prices, but still felt like I didn't know what American food meant anymore, let alone American food that stretched my dollar. Eventually -- the kicker -- I found good corn tortillas. My friend Allison took me to Hot Bread Kitchen in Spanish Harlem, where I bought a dozen wrapped in a vacuum-sealed bag. At Whole Foods, I bought poblanos, good-quality Monterey Jack cheese and some dried black beans. Back in our tiny kitchen last week, I made the black beans and leaned over the pot, letting the steam envelope my face. I was about to char the poblanos in a nonstick skillet when I realized, holy cow -- I have a real gas flame now. So I put the chiles directly on the fire to make rajas. With the beans simmering and the chiles blistering, it felt like my old life again. Even rubbing the skin off the poblanos -- a job I usually hate -- was fun, because the poblanos were so much firmer compared to how they used to turn out on my old electric stove in DF. I made the quesadillas just like I used to, on the stove, folded half-moon shapes, letting the tortillas crisp as the cheese melted. The funny thing was, this quesadilla actually tasted better than the ones I’d made in Mexico. The cheese, made in Wisconsin, oozed out in drippy, creamy strings. I didn’t have any salsa but that was okay. For the first time in almost a month, things felt normal and right. I allowed a small part of myself to believe that some parts of my new life -- even Mexican things -- may be even better here. We've since moved into our new apartment in Elmhurst and I've been eating quesadillas almost every day. They are cheap and delicious, so my what-to-eat problems have been solved, especially since my new friend Girelle introduced me to the kick-ass red jalapeño salsa from Tulcingo in Corona. Chicken quesadillas with rajas and cheese Note: These are really designed to use whatever you have in the refrigerator, so I'm not listing exact portions. They're great with any leftover roasted chicken, or any leftover vegetables that can be sliced somewhat small and fit inside a folded corn tortilla. They don't even have to contain cheese! Chilango quesadillas often leave it out. (That said, I used cheese because I was craving it... and I don't live in Mexico anymore.) Ingredients 2 Poblano peppers Cheese of your choice, sliced One piece leftover roasted chicken Good-quality corn tortillas Directions To prepare the rajas, place chiles directly over the gas flame and let cook until black and blistered in spots. If you have an electric stove, you can char the chiles in a comal or a nonstick skillet, WITHOUT oil -- note they take longer and will not be as firm if you do it this way. But the taste is still more than acceptable. I don't recommend using the broiler, because I think that's too much heat, and you'd be sacrificing flavor. Once chiles are about charred all sides, remove them to a clean kitchen towel and wrapped them up into a little bundle. Let them sit for 20 minutes, to loosen the skin and make it easier to peel. Peel the chiles as best you can using the pads of your fingers or a paper towel. Once peeled, cut open and scrape the seeds into the trashcan. Cut the chiles into strips about a quarter- to a half-inch wide. Set aside. Warm up your leftover piece of chicken in the microwave or on the stovetop, and shred it into small pieces with your fingers or a fork. Heat corn tortillas directly over the gas flame or on a comal. Once the tortilla can be folded over without breaking, remove it from the heat and place it in whatever pan you'll use to make the quesadillas. (This can be the same comal, or you don't have one, a skillet works.) Add a few little slices of cheese onto one side, plus the rajas and the chicken. Fold the other half over and let cook until you just see the cheese beginning to melt. This should only take maybe 30 seconds to a minute on medium heat. Flip and continue cooking, until cheese is creamy and oozy. Serve immediately with salsa on the side.
I fell in love with the gordita inflada in Veracruz. Remember this beauty? She came to me in Coatzacoalcos, warm and crunchy with anise seeds, dribbling bits of mole. And then there were these little cuties in Xico, lined with a layer of black beans. The gorditas in Mexico City are not what one would call cute. They're flat and dense and thick with pork flavor. They are the hoss of the gordita genre. With the Veracruz versions, I kept wondering, what makes these things inflate? Is it baking powder? The only cookbook I found that really addressed the gordita inflada was Zarela's Veracruz: Mexico's Simplest Cuisine and she didn't specifically mention what made them puffy. (Perhaps because it's common knowledge to everyone except me.) I assumed I'd spend hours trying to figure out how to inflate the darn things, but it turns out all you need is two items: a thin-pressed gordita and a lot of hot oil. When I placed the first gordita in the pan -- with the oil heated to over 300F -- it puffed up into a round bubble and started sputtering oil, zipping around the skillet like a little motorboat. "Se infló!" I yelled to Crayton. "Se infló, se infló!" He was on the computer and didn't hear me. After some futzing with a candy thermometer, I figured out that the ideal oil temperature was 260 to 280F for a golden-brown, plump gordita. Today after the football game, I figured out the best way to serve them: layered on a platter and drizzled with ribbons of cajeta, with lots of napkins so everyone could wipe their sticky fingers afterward. The anise seeds are a nod to Coatzacoalcos, and the cajeta.... well, everything tastes good with cajeta. Puffy anise-seed gorditas (gorditas infladas) with cajeta Makes 14 to 15 Note: These contain a mixture of masa and flour. You don't absolutely need the flour for the gorditas to inflate, but the flour does help the gorditas hold their puffy shape longer. (My plain corn ones deflated a little as they cooled.) I also like the extra sweetness that the plantain adds. If you can't find one, leave it out. It may seem like a lot of anise seeds you're adding, but it works in the end. The anise comes through loud and clear, which is what I wanted. Lastly, you'll need a tortilla press and ideally a candy thermometer to measure how hot your oil is. You can eyeball it if not. Do ahead: Masa is highly perishable and, if fresh, does not last longer than one day. The masa I bought from a local tortillería went bad stored in my fridge from one day to the next. However, I did freeze a small amount overnight and it was fine the next day. I would not recommend freezing masa for long periods of time. You can prepare the dough the morning of and refrigerate it until using. Just make sure to knead it well before forming the gorditas. Ingredients 1/2 lb. or 240g fresh masa or the equivalent prepared from masa harina (e.g. Maseca) A 2 1/2 to 3-inch piece of ripe plantain, peeled 1 tablespoon milk 1 tablespoon flour 2 tablespoons grated piloncillo or packed brown sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 1/2 teaspoons anise seeds (toasted if you want), slightly crushed 2 cups oil for frying (I used vegetable) Cajeta for drizzling Other items: Tortilla press Plastic for lining press (e.g., from a grocery bag) Slotted spatula or spoon Baking sheet or platter and paper towels Directions 1. Making the dough Place your masa in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Zap your piece of plantain in the microwave for 20 to 40 seconds until it softens. (Alternately, slice the plantain into thick pieces and simmer in a little milk. Alternately #2, if the plantain is already super ripe -- the peel will be black all over -- you don't need to cook it.) Place the soft plantain in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon milk and mash into a thick puree. Add flour, sugar and salt and mix well. Stir the plantain mixture into your ball of masa, kneading with one hand (or both) until well combined. Then add anise seeds, kneading again until the anise seeds seem well-distributed and the dough comes together and forms a cohesive mass. 2. Shaping the gorditas Grab about a tablespoon of dough -- Zarela calls these "pingpong ball size" -- and roll into a small ball with the palms of your hands. Continue forming the dough into small balls until all the dough has been used. Cover them with a damp dish towel while you heat the 2 cups of cooking oil in a deep skillet. Line the plates of a tortilla press with two pieces of thin plastic. (I cut up a grocery bag.) Once the oil has reached about 260-280F (a little bit of masa should sizzle in the pan) take one of the balls and press it flat. Peel off the top sheet of plastic. Then turn gordita onto your open hand -- the upper edge of your hand works best -- and peel off the other piece of plastic. Place the flattened gordita gently into the hot oil. It should immediately sputter and sizzle, and become enveloped in a lagoon of bubbles. If it doesn't, your oil is not hot enough. Using a slotted spatula or spoon, flick hot oil over the top of the gordita in a quick motion. It should puff up. When the gordita turns dark-brown around the edges -- about 10 to 15 seconds -- turn over and cook the other side. Remove the gordita from the pan using a slotted spoon or spatula and set on a platter or tray lined with layers of paper towels. (Or, if you are in Mexico, papel estraza.) Continue until all gorditas are done. I fried two at a time, once I got enough confidence, in my 10-inch Lodge skillet. Drizzle cajeta on top and serve immediately. Don't forget the napkins! Or knives and forks if you want to be a little more civilized.