I love chicharrón en salsa verde, but when I first moved here the dish didn't appeal to me. Drown crunchy chicharrón in salsa? And then what? Wait, the point is soggy chicharrón? I was too scared/weirded out to try it until early this year, when Ruth and I stopped at a roadside stand in the mountains outside Puebla, the kind with the hand-painted signs and the little stovepipes billowing smoke. The chicharrón, which I'd never had for breakfast, bubbled in a cazuela and sent up reams of steam. I ordered some and the texture was surprisingly delicate, like a fluffy cooked egg. The acidy tomatillo sauce settled into its nooks and crevices, while the smoky taste of bacon lurked. All in all, it was outstanding. I was looking for an easy party dish to make last week and Lola suggested chicharrón en salsa verde con nopal. I'd never made it, but she said you make your sauce and throw in your chicharrón and cactus y ya. Done. She was right. The dish didn't take much time, it was hearty and satisfying and easy to transport. We added lots of boiled nopal and chicharrón with plenty of meat on it, known here as chicharrón carnudo. (I told the butchers at the market: "Deme chicharrón bien carnudito!" I have no idea if that's an albur or not.) Simmered everything in a big pot of salsa until the chicharrón was just soft, then scooped it into warm tortillas. The taste was just like I remembered -- spicy and acidy, with just the right amount of pork flavor. The biggest compliment I got was after the party. A friend told me over Twitter that he fed his Mexican aunt and grandmother my guisado, and they loved it. Let me repeat that: A Mexican grandmother loved my cooking. Now I just need to learn how to identify an albur and I will be that much closer to being Mexican. Chicharrón en salsa verde con nopal Serves 10 to 12, or more Note: You can halve this dish if you want or make even less. As long as you have the salsa base, it's just a matter of tossing extra ingredients into the same pot. (I've thought of adding peas or green beans in addition to cactus, although that's not traditional and Lola looked at me funny when I suggested it.) If you can't find fresh chile de árbol -- a long, skinny green pepper -- serrano will work. I also used the smallest tomatillos I could find, which are sweeter and more flavorful than the larger ones. I bought WAY too much chicharrón because I thought it would reduce to a third of its size. It doesn't -- it reduces somewhat but also soaks up a lot of liquid, so if you put in too much you won't have any salsa left or room for extra veggies. I have adjusted the recipe below to reflect the amount I should have bought. If you have extra chicharrón left over, it's great with pico de gallo, or to bring to a party in place of chips. Chicharrón = super popular Mexican party food. This dish also reheats beautifully and will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for at least a week. Ingredients 4 pounds/2 kilos of tomatillo, husked 1/2 lb./250g fresh chile de árbol (see note), stems removed 1 medium white onion + 1/4 chunk of an additional white onion 4 garlic cloves, peeled 6 pounds/3 kilos fresh cactus paddles (about 20 large paddles), de-spined and washed 2 tablespoons lard 1 1/2 to 2 pounds/1 kilo chicharrón carnudo (chicharrón with lots of meat bits), broken into pieces 12 stems cilantro, chopped Salt to taste Directions Rinse your tomatillos well under running water, removing any dirty bits. They should still be a little sticky -- this doesn't mean they're dirty, it's just the tomatillos' natural sugar. Working in batches (or one large pot if you have one) place half the tomatillos and chiles in one pot, and half in the other. Cover with water. Add half an onion and two garlic cloves to each pot. Simmer on medium to medium-low heat until the tomatillos and chiles have softened and turned a muted green. Remove the tomatillos, chiles, onion and garlic to a bowl and reserve about 6 to 8 cups of your soaking liquid, which you'll use to thin out your sauce later. Fill a blender jar halfway with the hot tomatillo-chile-garlic-onion mixture. (Important note: if you fill the blender completely with hot contents, the lid may blow off. Be careful and tread lightly here. You could also let the items cool and go have a glass of wine.) Add one ladleful of tomatillo water and blend on low; then slowly blend on higher speeds until the sauce is smooth. Pour into a bowl and repeat until you've blended all of the sauce. Once the sauce is done, it's time to work on the cactus. Cut the cactus into 2-inch pieces and place in a pot covered with water. Bring to a boil, lower flame and simmer until the pieces are tender and a muted pea-green color. Strain and let drain in a colander while you fry the sauce. Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and add the lard. When it's melted and hot, add the 1/4-piece of onion and fry until dark golden-brown and bubbly on all sides. Remove onion pieces from the hot oil using a slotted spoon. Quickly pour in your salsa (be careful as it might spit), stirring constantly so it doesn't stick and burn. Once sauce starts to boil, add chicharrón pieces in batches. Then add the cooked cactus to the pot, and 5 cups of the soaking liquid. Stir to combine. The dish should be saucy but not watery and thin -- if it's too thin, raise the heat and bring to boil to reduce it. I tend to use a lot of liquid since we're at such a high altitude and it evaporates quickly. Taste for salt -- I added about 1 teaspoon or a little more -- and bring sauce to a gentle boil, again stirring occasionally so it doesn't stick. The dish is done when the chicharrón has softened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, taste again for more salt and stir in chopped cilantro. Serve with warm tortillas and beans.
I love eating chiles rellenos, but I haven't quite figured out yet how to make them a quick job. I usually like to stuff them with beans, and I always forget to soak my beans the night before. Plus I feel compelled to do the capeado if I'm relleno-ing a chile, and sometimes I don't want to whip egg whites on a Tuesday, you know? That's what I love about these panela-stuffed chiles: the simplicity. All you do is char the poblanos on the comal, peel off the skin and scrape out the seeds, cut some panela slices and sprinkle them with fresh epazote, and then put them inside your chile. The cheese slices don't even have to fit! Actually, it's better if they don't, because then the cheese gets sort of melty and soft out the sides. You pan-fry the stuffed chile in a mix of butter and lard, or butter and olive oil. The butter is key -- it draws out the poblano's natural buttery notes. I made these on a weeknight and ate the leftovers the rest of the week. My love affair with the Poblano pepper continues. Chile Rellenos with Panela Cheese & Epazote Makes 4 4 poblano peppers 8 oz./200g panela cheese cut into 1/4"-1/2" slices 2 sprigs epazote (about 18 leaves), chopped 2 teaspoons lard 20g (about 2 pats) butter Directions To prepare the peppers: Rinse poblano peppers and dry them well with paper towels or a dish cloth. To char them, you can let them sit directly over a gas flame and turn using tongs; or, you can use a comal or dry skillet. I don't have gas in my apartment (I'm one of the .02% of households in Mexico City that doesn't), so I use the latter. Heat the comal over high heat and turn chiles quickly, blackening all over but also making sure they don't cook too long and turn slimy. Remove chiles to a dish towel once they're charred, and wrap tightly. Let sit for 20 minutes. This makes the skin easier to peel off. Peel the skin off chiles -- DON'T RINSE UNDER WATER, as this mutes that lovely charred flavor! -- and cut an incision into each one. Using your hands or a little spoon, scrape out the seeds as best you can. This is the most annoying part of the dish. Have I mentioned how much I hate seeding poblanos? Peeling, fun. Seeding, lame. To prepare the filling: Take one slice of panela and sprinkle with epazote. Place the other piece of panela on top, like a sandwich, and sprinkle the whole thing with epazote. Place your panela-epazote sandwich inside the chile. To cook: I had to do this in two batches. Heat a large (I used 10-inch) skillet over medium heat. Add half the lard and half the butter, and let melt. When hot, add two chiles. Cook until slightly darkened on all sides and cheese starts to melt. Serve with whatever you want -- I used some leftover ayocote beans that Janneth brought me from Tepoztlan.
After taking two chiles en nogada cooking classes, I finally decided the time had come to make the dish in my own house. This was sort of an insane decision because I was working and traveling too much. And because, amid all that, I decided to go to Puebla to buy my ingredients. The fruit in Mexico City was not satisfying. The stone fruits came from the States -- ni lo piensas en un plato tan mexicano -- and the Chihuahua apples looked a little miserable. So I carved out a few days and bought a bus ticket. At the Mercado La Acocota, I bought two kilos each of local peaches, starchy, crunchy apples from Zacatlán and sweet pears. I also bought 16 chiles poblanos. The day before the shindig, with walnuts to peel and some last-minute work to take care of, my daylight cooking hours ran out. Which is why I found myself at 7 p.m. starting to prep an endless mise-en-place. At 10 p.m., the picadillo finally went into the pot. The next day -- the day of the party -- I woke up at 7:30 and peeled walnuts for three hours. (Crayton was sleeping most of that time or else he would've been shaking his head at me.) Then I charred my chiles and rubbed off the skin, and tried the best I could to remove the seeds without tearing apart the chile flesh. My guests had started to arrive around 3 p.m. and a few asked if I needed help. ("No," I croaked.) The only one I let into the kitchen was Ruth. She stuffed the chiles and dusted them in flour and generally made me feel like I wasn't drowning in chile skin, seeds, eggs, and warming bowls of beans and rice. Finally, finally, it was time for the capeado, the frothy egg batter in which we'd dunk the chiles. My friend Carlos wandered into the kitchen and said, "You're going to do the capeado?" Not everyone does, because the capeado is fattening and complicated. But I sniffed. Of course I'd do the capeado. The capeado respected the original 19th-century recipe. After probably four chiles, it was hot and smoky and oily in the kitchen, and the smoke had drifted out into the living room. I didn't care. I was channeling the nuns! I didn't get a photo of the chiles all gorgeous and golden-brown, but I did snap a quick photo of them blanketed in walnut sauce on the plate, before we devoured them all. My friend Daniela told me after one bite that I should open a restaurant. The walnut sauce, as an addendum, was stunning. The nuns would've been proud. Chiles en Nogada Makes enough for 12 chiles A few notes here: You'll notice I used chopped meat, not ground beef or pork -- I like the flavor better when the meat is chopped, plus it's supposedly more accurate to the original recipe. I also did not use acitrón, the candied biznaga catcus that is typically used in chiles en nogada, because it is overharvested. On the cooking time for the picadillo, I've heard about some folks who cook it for six or eight hours, making it a slow-roasted braise type of thing. I didn't do that here, but I'd like to try it someday. In both of the classes I took, the picadillo cooked for about 30 minutes. Lastly, I know I'm a snob about the capeado, but you don't have to do that step if you don't want to. To prepare the chiles without the capeado, I would warm them slightly in the oven and then top them directly with the nogada sauce. (Be warned that the sauce will not pool in a pretty pile on top, but fall off the sides.) The dish is traditionally served lukewarm or room temperature. For the picadillo (the filling): 1 to 2 tablespoons lard 1 medium onion, chopped 2 garlic cloves, minced 12 oz/350g pork loin, chopped 12 oz/350g beef rump roast, chopped 1 lb./500g tomatoes, charred on a comal, liquified in a blender and strained 1/2 cup raisins 8 oz./233g peaches (about 6 small Mexican peaches), peeled, cored and chopped 9 oz./250g apples (about 4 small), peeled, cored and chopped 8 oz./240g "lechera" style Mexican pears, or any other pears you want, peeled, cored and chopped 1/2 cup sliced almonds 1/2 cup pine nuts 3 rings candied pineapple, chopped (this amounts to scant 3/4 cup) 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano (I used oregano I bought in Oaxaca City) 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground clove 12 chiles poblanos 3/4 to 1 cup flour Makes enough to fill 12 chiles, with extra relleno left over For the capeado (egg batter) and the frying: 8 eggs, separated pinch of salt 1 bottle vegetable oil or other cooking oil that doesn't burn when heated to high heat For the nogada (walnut sauce): 4 cups whole peeled walnuts, soaked in water or frozen to keep from turning brown 3.5oz/100g goat cheese 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk 2 tablespoon sherry 2 tablespoons sugar Makes scant 1 liter For the garnish: 1/2 cup whole or chopped parsley leaves 1 cup pomegranate seeds Directions 1. To prepare the picadillo: Melt the lard in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and stir to coat in the lard. Cook until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir constantly so it doesn't burn, cooking until aromatic, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the chopped meat and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the meat changes color and has mostly cooked. Then pour in the tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Add raisins, fruit, spices, nuts, dried pineapple and spices, and a little salt to taste. Bring to another boil, then simmer for at least 30 minutes on low, keeping the pot covered. Taste for more salt. The picadillo can be prepared up to two days before and stored in the refrigerator, or even longer and frozen. I made mine the day before as to leave more time for stuffing/seeding/peeling chiles on the day of our meal. Keep the picadillo warm while you're finishing with the rest of the steps. 2. To char and seed the chiles: Char the poblano peppers over an open flame, a dry skillet or a comal. Wrap chiles in dish towels for about 20 minutes until the skin softens and is easier to peel. Working one chile at a time, remove the skin with the pads of your thumbs or a paper towel. Try not to scrape the skin off with your fingernails -- not only does the skin gets under your nails, where it's difficult to remove, but it mutes some of that yummy charred flavor. Also, do not rinse the chiles under water for the same reason! The chiles don't need to be perfect. A few pieces of skin left over is okay. After you skin the peppers, cut an incision in the chile (the thinnest/weakest part of the chile is usually best) from tip to end, leaving about an inch of space on either side so the filling doesn't fall out. Then carefully remove the seeds, either using gloved hands or a small spoon. Try very hard not to scrape, or else you could end up dislodging a vein, and the chile will fall apart. Set all charred, peeled, and seeded chiles aside. 3. To stuff the chiles: Fill each chile with picadillo until they're plump, but not impossible to close. The idea is that your filling will stay inside and NOT fall out while the chile is cooking. After filling all the chiles, dust them each in flour. Let them sit for a minute while you prepare the capeado. 3. For the capeado: If the beaten whites sit around for too long, they'll fall, which destroys the texture of the capeado. So I'd start heating the oil to fry your chiles while you beat the whites. (This is especially helpful if you have an electric stove that takes forever to heat anything up, like I do.) I used a 10-inch skillet and about 1/2 cup of oil. While the oil warms, beat the whites until they're thick and fluffy and they stay in place even after you turn the bowl upside-down. Then, one by one, stir in the yolks, mixing just until the yolk is completely integrated. Hopefully by this time the oil is hot hot hot, so when you drop in a teensy piece of egg batter, it sizzles. 4. To fry the chiles: OJO: The chiles fry VERY quickly and they'll burn if you don't have a constant eye on them. So this is not a good time to go have a glass of wine, wash dishes, fiddle with the radio, etc. Prepare a baking sheet lined with several layers of paper towels, and have a large cooking spoon and two spatulas at the ready. Hold one flour-dusted chile by its stem and upper edge and carefully dunk it into your bowl of egg batter. (Sometimes a scooping motion works best.) Then quickly place the chile in the hot pan of oil. It should bubble and sizzle immediately. Slather on a little extra egg batter on top so you no longer see any of the chile's green skin. Once the chile is completely swaddled in egg batter, use a spoon to bathe the chile in extra oil from the pan, until the chile turns a light golden-brown. This should take perhaps 10 seconds. Then use two spatulas -- one for each side of the chile -- to carefully turn the chile over, wrapping its eggy coat around itself, so it cooks on the other side. Cook for about 10 to 20 seconds more on the other side and remove to the paper-towel lined tray. Repeat with other chiles, adding more oil as needed. Let chiles rest while you prepare the sauce. 5. To prepare the nogada sauce: I did this in batches. Place 2 cups of walnuts in the blender jar with half the goat cheese, 1/4 cup milk and 1 tablespoon sugar. Blend on high, stopping a few times to stir and dislodge the walnut bits from the blender blades. Add one more tablespoon of milk or a little more if necessary. (You don't want the sauce too watery or thin.) You could also add more sugar if you want the sauce sweeter -- I like mine on the savory side. Finally, add 1 tablespoon of sherry and blend just a little more to combine. Pour into a receptacle and repeat with the other two cups of walnuts, and the rest of the goat cheese, sugar and sherry. 6. To serve: Place a chile on a plate. Ladle over the nogada sauce, until the chile is completely obscured. Sprinkle with parsley and pomegranate seeds. Serve at room temperature.
For a long time, I thought I didn’t like pitaya. I thought it was the hot-pink fruit with white polka-dotted flesh. They're gorgeous, but they don't taste like anything. Then I started seeing these things popping up at the markets. The vendors said they were pitaya, too, and that they were a cactus fruit from the órgano (organ-pipe) cactus in Jalisco. I finally tasted one at Mercado San Juan last week. The vendor cleared off the spines with a soft brush and cut the fruit open, revealing a deep ruby red flesh exactly the same color as the nail polish I wear on my toes in winter. (Remind me later to tell you about my Mexican-fruit nail polish-naming idea. Mashed capulín is my second fave color after this.) With its delicate black sesame-type seeds, the pitaya was even prettier than a red prickly pear fruit. I bought a kilo and decided to make an agua fresca. A few days later, the pitayas were going bad and starting to give me the evil eye, so I finally blended the fruit with water and sugar, and strained it. Served a pretty pinkish-red glass to my friend Rebecca and she loved it -- "a cross between cucumber and watermelon," she said. (I'm thinking now that some jalapeño-infused simple syrup and tequila might make a kick-ass cocktail.) Pitayas taste sweeter than a regular prickly-pear tuna fruit, and the flesh is a little more crumbly and moist. If you have other ideas recipe ideas, I'd love to hear them. In the meantime here's a neat article on other types of edible cactus fruits. Pitaya Agua Fresca Makes 10 cups 1 lb. pitayas, spines removed 8 cups water 1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, or sweetening agent of your choice Juice of 1/2 lime (optional) Cut the pitayas in half, and then in quarters. The fruit should easily peel back from the skin, if they're ripe enough. Toss the flesh into the blender jar and discard the peels. Add about four cups water and half the sugar, blend until smooth. Strain into a pitcher and repeat. Taste for lime juice at the end. Refrigerate and serve cold, or over ice.
My only knowledge of chile piquín prior to Saturday was that it was sold two ways in Mexico City: as a wrinkly, small red chile, or in powder form. (The powder is often used in spicy cocktails here.) Last Saturday, a stand at Mercado Medellín had little bags of fresh piquín -- small, green pea-sized chiles with rounded tips. I stopped and stared. “Es chile piquín?” I asked the vendor. She said yes and gave me a quick recipe: “Los asas, y los muelas con limón y sal.” You toast them, then grind them with lime and salt. Seriously -- how good did that sound? Especially with this heat we’ve been having. So I bought a bag, not really knowing what they tasted like. When I got to my friend Liz’s house, site of cooking activities for the afternoon, I popped one in my mouth. My brain yelled “FIRE!” so I spit it out. Oh my god. It was like chewing on a raw habanero, or what I imagine that to be like. Toasting them would reduce the heat a little bit, so I forged ahead with my salsa. I toasted garlic, tomatillos and chiles on the comal, then ground everything in the molcajete with some coarse sea salt and a little water. I ended with a squeeze of lime juice, and then dipped my spoon in to taste. The result was a firecracker: right on the line between acid and sweet, with a hum of citrus from the lime. And the heat packed a double-wallop -- it hit your tongue, then softened, then came back as a warm rush inside your mouth. I was addicted immediately. "Try the salsa!" I told Erik, Liz's husband. He did and coughed and turn red. I kept telling Crayton to try it, and he put a few drops on his tostada. That was enough for him. I, meanwhile, kept spooning little teaspoons on my tostada and then wiping my damp forehead. Fresh chile piquín salsa Makes about 1/2 to 3/4 cup Note: I've been making a lot of salsas in the blender lately, and there's a huge flavor difference in making one in the molcajete. If you've got a molcajete, please use it. I promise you won't be grinding very long -- I spent maybe 10 minutes. Ingredients 1 medium garlic clove, skin on 2 medium-sized tomate verde (I'm referring to the larger variety of tomatillo sold in Mexico; if you can only find the small ones, use three or four) 1 tablespoon fresh chile piquín Juice of 1/2 lime Sea salt To serve: Tortillas or tostadas Avocado Directions Heat a comal or nonstick skillet on medium-high. Place tomate in the center of the comal and the garlic at the edge, so it doesn't burn. Toast both until soft and blackened in spots. Remove to a small bowl. Lower the flame slightly and add the chile piquín to the comal. Move quickly with a spatula or heat-proof cooking utensil; anything plastic will melt, because a hot comal is a beast. (Mine heats my kitchen in the winter.) The chiles should blacken in less than a minute. If they start popping all over the place, lower the flame and stir them vigorously. Remove to the molcajete when done. Peel the garlic and place in the molcajete with your chiles. Add about 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground sea salt. (I'm referring to the kind that goes in your salt grinder, the big kernels of salt.) Grind everything together with about a tablespoon of water. When you've got a thick paste -- and it doesn't have to be perfect -- add the tomate verde one at a time. Grind some more, until the skins are mostly broken down. Add a little more water if you need. Squeeze in the lime juice and stir to combine. Taste for more salt if necessary. Serve on tostadas -- I used teeny taquería-size tortillas that I'd crisped on the comal -- topped with little wedges of avocado.
My craving for BLT's started with the bread. Not Bimbo, but thickly sliced, toasted, homemade bread. The kind that deserves a good slathering of Brazilian banana-orange marmalade, which was slowly going bad in our fridge. But back to the BLT. It would be a messy monster, with thick slices of heirloom tomato and thick slices of bacon. Nestled over the bacon would be a mound of sauteed red onions, still sort of al dente, and a layer of chile mayonnaise that oozed out the sides. But not a creamy mayonnaise, something more chile-forward (yes, I just said "chile forward") -- something with a little tobacco and fruit in it. Last week I was in a bit of a funk because because mosquitoes kept torturing me while I slept. On Wednesday I finally found the ganas to make the bread. (Used Joy of Cooking's Milk Bread recipe, without the egg wash because I forgot.) Besides the bread rising like a monster in the oven, it came out fine. Last night -- I had to act quickly because the bread was going stale -- I fried the bacon in our cast-iron skillet and tossed the onions in the bacon fat, de-glazing everything with a bit of Indio beer. Whipped up a quick salsa in my blender and added a little mayo to even everything out. The result was a two-hand-holder sandwich: big, gloppy, chin-staining, with juicy tomato bits dripping out the bottom. The spread had exactly the chile taste I wanted -- hints of chocolate and tobacco and berries, with just a touch of heat. I finished my sandwich before Crayton did, so I looked at him very sweetly and asked for a bite of his. Because he's nice he said yes. I think I ate his last piece of bacon. BLT's with ancho-pasilla spread and sauteed red onions Makes two big sandwiches with some left over Note: The onions really make a difference here, adding a layer of sweetness and some texture. I'd definitely want to include them in any future BLT experiments. Also, I was tempted to make a chipotle mayo but I'm glad I didn't -- the smoky bacon stands out that much more. For the BLTs: Four slices thick white bread, toasted A few leaves high-quality lettuce 1 1/2 small beefsteak tomatoes, sliced 150g or 5-6 thick slices smoked bacon 3 thick slices red onion A few tablespoons dark beer For the chile spread: 2 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and de-veined 2 pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded and de-veined 1 small clove garlic, peeled 1 large tomatillo (50g or about 2 oz.), simmered in water until soft 1 1/2 tablespoons water 2 tablespoons mayonnaise spritz of fresh lime juice salt and pepper to taste Hydrate chiles in hot water for about 10 minutes, until skin has softened. Place in blender with garlic and water, and tomatillo, and blend into thick paste. Add more water if necessary. Let cool to room temperature and stir in mayonnaise, lime juice, salt and pepper. Chill spread until ready to use. Meanwhile, to make BLTs, fry bacon in a heavy skillet, or however you usually fry bacon. (Some people use the oven.) Remove bacon and strain out most of the grease. With the flame on medium-high, add onions to pan and cook, stirring constantly so they soak up all the yummy charred bits. Add a little more grease if they start to burn. After a minute or two, once the onions have started to turn translucent, add a stream of beer (if you want) to deglaze the pan. You could also add water or chicken broth. To serve, spread each slice of bread liberally with chile spread. Top with lettuce, tomato, bacon and onions. Cover with remaining slice of bread and cut in half to serve.
When I was a kid and my brother and I were really hungry, my mom used to whip up this quick tortilla-egg thing. She'd tear tortillas into pieces and fry them in a little bit of oil, and then crack in some eggs. She somehow fried the tortillas exactly how I wanted -- not too crispy and not too soft. Finding one of these tortilla pieces in my bowl (the tortilla-egg thing was always served in a bowl) always felt so surprising and good. I've been thinking a lot lately about these comforting, informal dishes we ate as children and how much of an impact they make. My mom hasn't made the tortilla-egg thing for me in years, but I still think of it every now and then and sometimes whip up my own version. I know now this dish is called migas, by the way -- my mom told me that years later. (I still call it the tortilla-egg thing because old habits are hard to break.) This morning I had old tortillas I wanted to use up, so I cut them into pieces and fried them. Added some roasted red peppers and fresh peas, and poured in a bowl of beaten eggs. The result was good, but the tortillas were too soggy. If you want them really crisp, I think you have to keep it simple: just tortillas and eggs. What do you remember eating as a kid that made you feel good? Migas with red peppers and peas Serves 3 Ingredients 1 teaspoon oil 4 corn torillas, cut into pieces 1/4 cup (heaping) chopped onion 1/2 whole roasted red pepper, cut into squares 1 cup (heaping) peas 6 eggs, beaten For garnish: Cotija cheese More roasted red peppers Salsa Directions Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add corn tortillas and stir to coat. Cook until crisp, stirring occasionally, about five minutes. Add in vegetables and stir quickly, cooking until peas turn slightly tender, perhaps 2 minutes. Sprinkle some salt to taste. Pour in eggs and turn heat to low. Cook until eggs are scrambled. Garnish with cotija cheese, more roasted red peppers and salsa.
I've got a guest post up today -- a recipe for Stuffed Nopales with Black Beans and Cheese -- over at Aida Mollenkamp's blog. She's a Food Network Chef and the former food editor of Chow, and she's also a friend and all-around good person. Please check it out if those cheesy nopales look in any way appetizing to you.
A few years ago my friend Jesica and I were shopping at a market, and she pointed out some extra-large limes. "Mira, esa es nuestra lima." Look, that's our lime. She made me taste some -- I was a little wary of sticking half a lime in my mouth -- and I was amazed. The lima didn't taste like regular Mexican lime at all. It was like a pear crossed with a sweet orange, with an intense, floral perfume. From then on, I called lima "nuestra lima" just because I liked how that sounded. I tasted some at the markets when vendors offered ("Quiere lima guerita?"), but I never bought any because I didn't know what to do with it. Then, last week, after tasting an especially juicy lima at Mercado San Juan, I thought: what the hell have I been waiting for? I bought a kilo and decided to make agua fresca. When I got home that night, I squeezed the lima juice and added strawberries and a little sugar. The result was exactly what I'd imagined in my head: whisperingly sweet with a bite from the berries. And the smell! It could've come from a spray bottle. Or a flower bouquet. I served it to my friends Erik and Liz for dinner and Erik said: "This tastes like summer." Best compliment ever. My only duda, as they say, is that I don't know lima's official scientific name, therefore I don't know if you can find it outside Mexico. Ricardo Muñoz Zurita's Mexican Gastronomy Dictionary says they're citrus aurantifolia, but that doesn't sound correct, as these limes aren't tart or acidic. I think they may be citrus limetta. Anyone out there care to comment? Can you find these in the United States, Europe or elsewhere? In the meantime, if you live in Mexico, please make this agua fresca and sip it outside, preferably at sunset on a weekend night. You can find limas at Mercado San Juan or the Condesa Tuesday tianguis, and I'm sure elsewhere. Strawberry-Lima Agua Fresca* *Remember this is the Mexican sweet lime, not the tart limón Makes 12 cups, which four people can finish in one sitting, because it's THAT good Ingredients 1 cup fresh-squeezed lima juice (about eight limas) 12 strawberries, quartered 4 tablespoons sugar 12 cups water Directions I actually halve this recipe and make two batches, since my blender only holds 6 cups of water at a time. So place half of the above in the blender and blend until smooth. Strain into pitcher. Repeat with second batch and serve cold or room-temperature.
Because of the temperate climate here, Mexico City is blessed with beautiful produce almost year-round. You can always find squash, green beans, carrots, tomatillos, tomatoes and poblanos at the markets. (Notice I said markets and not supermarkets -- the supermarkets are always running out of stuff.) You can almost always find squash flowers, too. Sometimes they’re big and gorgeous like this. We’re not exactly in squash flower season right now -- they're mostly available in May and June, and then August through October -- but you can find a few solitary bunches at the markets if you get there early enough. They’re often eaten in guisados or soups. This soup in particular comes from Diana Kennedy's Mexican Regional Cooking, one of her earlier books that was later folded into The Essential Cuisines of Mexico. (I found the book at a thrift store in Olympia, Wa., and finished reading it while preparing for my cooking class with her a few months ago.) The soup comes together quickly, and because all the ingredients are fresh, it tastes like it took hours. In the book it's described as a ranch-style soup -- basically using whatever ingredients are on hand and tossing them into the pot. I really like this specific combination, though: a poblano pepper, charred on the comal and peeled, adds a sweet, buttery note. The squash flowers and corn add texture. I've eaten this soup as a first course to a mole dinner, but it's hefty enough to work as a light lunch. You can make this with either chicken or vegetable broth. If you do the latter, I highly recommend making your own broth in the slow cooker. I'll post a recipe for that next. It'll make your house smell amazing. Squash flower, corn and poblano pepper soup Adapted slightly from Diana Kennedy's Mexican Regional Cooking Serves 4 The original recipe calls for both cream and either queso fresco or Muenster, but I've omitted both because I like the soup on the lighter side. Also, be careful when adding the poblano peppers because they may be hotter than you think. Try a piece first before adding them to your soup. When buying fresh corn in Mexico City, any market vendor will shave the fresh kernels right off the ear if you ask. (As an aside, can I quickly rant about restaurants who use canned corn here? USING CANNED CORN IN THE CRADLE OF CORN DRIVES ME NUTS.) If you can't find fresh corn, frozen is acceptable. Ingredients 1 1/2 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon oil 1 small onion, sliced thin 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced 1 1/2 cups fresh corn, or about 250g (see note) Salt to taste 1 1/2 cups diced or quartered squash 1 small bunch squash blossoms (about 10) 1 to 2 poblano chiles, charred on a comal, peeled, seeded and de-veiened, and then diced 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth Fresh epazote, chopped (optional) Directions Heat the butter and oil in a soup pot or saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and stir, cooking until soft and translucent. Then add the garlic and stir quickly, cooking for about 30 seconds more. Add corn kernels and salt to taste. Cover and cook until corn is slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Add the squash, squash flowers, poblano peppers, broth and more salt to taste. Cook until all the ingredients are tender, about 20 minutes, and then stir in chopped epazote if using. (I also like to add a few grinds of fresh-cracked black pepper.) This soup tastes even better the next day.