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.
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.
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.
For awhile now, I've liked green salsa more than red. Green was always brighter, more acidic. A drizzle on my taco set off sparks on my tongue. And when the salsa had avocado, as green taquería salsas often do here, I wanted to curl up and take a nap in its creaminess. Red salsa never hit me that way. It wasn't luxurious or intense. Red salsa just sat there. Blinking. (Little did I know red salsa doesn't work like that. It plants a seed, and then hurries away to see what you do with it.) In the past few months, whenever I'd visit taquerías, I'd find myself looking at the red more than the green. I already knew what the green contained: chile serrano or chile verde, maybe chile de árbol or an avocado. But the red remained an enigma. Did the taquero use tomatoes? They're not essential. Which chiles did he use? Guajillo, cascabel, mora? There were no acidic tomatillos to mask everything. With red salsa, you tasted the chiles themselves. The result was subtler, more mysterious. I've been wanting to experiment with red salsas at home, so I tiptoed into the game with a batch of guajillo-árbol salsa from Ricardo Muñoz's excellent book Salsas Mexicanas. I've used it several times before, always with good results. This salsa contained a few tomatoes, pureed with toasted chiles until they became a thick, deep-red soup. (In another time five thousand years ago, maybe I could've dyed my hair with this stuff.) One bite murmured of garlic and the piney herbs of the guajillo. Then came the searing heat -- like, straddling the line of edible -- from the 8 chiles de árbol I used. Heat is the main difference between a table salsa and one you'd cook meat and vegetables in, by the way. The former, if you like spicy food, should be tongue-swellingly hot. Seven days later, I still have a glass jar of this salsa in my fridge. I've slowly been working my way through it, spooning it into quesadillas, on chips, over eggs. It's fabulous on anything. Recipe below. Oh, and tell me -- where do you come down on the fence? Red or green, and why? ...
Whenever I have visitors in town or I want to wow dinner guests, I break into my stash of Oaxacan pasilla chiles. I've been obsessed with this chile for the past year -- unlike the regular chile pasilla, or even the chipotle or mora for that matter, they're intensely smoky, raisiny, fruity. My friend Ian was visiting last weekend, so I asked him whether he wanted to make oaxacan pasillas rellenos (someday I'm going to post that recipe for you, it's divine) or salsa. He chose the latter. I've posted a recipe previously for oaxacan pasilla salsa with tomatillos, so we thumbed through Ricardo Muñoz Zurita's excellent book Salsas Mexicanas for another. The one we found was simple: a mix of rehydrated chiles, garlic and salt. My mouth watered just thinking about it -- can you imagine the flavor without the acidity from the tomatoes? It would be a smoke-tobacco-fruit fest. With Ian on the tejolote, we threw comal-roasted garlic, sea salt and the rehydrated pasillas into the molcajete. He ground everything together for perhaps 20 minutes, adding a few dribbles of water when it looked too thick. The result was a gorgeous, deep red paste. We dipped our noses closer to the molcajete, inhaled, and sighed. It was as smoky and intense as we'd imagined. We ate the salsa with totopos I'd made from old tortillas baked in the oven. The next day, I spooned some onto my quesadillas. If you can't find the Oaxacan chile pasilla, you could try substituting chile chipotle or morita. The basic idea of letting the chile shine with a little bit of garlic is a good one, I think. Simple Oaxacan chile pasilla salsa Makes about 1 very spicy cup Note: The original recipe didn't call for roasting the garlic on the comal, but we did it anyway, because Ian and I both prefer the taste. The original recipe also called for keeping the seeds and grinding them in the salsa, but we only added a pinch. It's still very hot. If you're substituting dried chipotles, I'd stick with three large ones. Canned chipotles tend to be a little hotter, but you might try using three and see what happens. (Or start with two large ones and go from there.) If you're using dried moras, which tend to be smaller, I'd do perhaps five or six. You could also make this salsa in a blender, if you don't have a molcajete. If you do have one, I'd use it, as you get more control over the texture/consistency. My ideal consistency here was a thick sauce -- thinner than tomato paste, but not as runny as a taquería salsa. In any case, the consistency doesn't matter so much, because it's going to taste good no matter what. Ingredients 4 large cloves garlic, unpeeled 3 oaxacan chile pasillas* (see note) sea salt to taste Heat a comal or dry skillet on the stovetop. Add garlic cloves to the outer edge of the pan, where the heat isn't so intense, and cook until golden brown and soft on both sides, turning occasionally. If you leave them too long on the comal and they blacken in spots, just shave off the those pieces with a knife. You don't want them because they're bitter. Meanwhile, use a dish towel to rub off any dust that might have collected on the chiles. Add them to the comal and quickly toast, until the skin has softened slightly and the chiles become aromatic. This should take maybe 10 or 15 seconds at the most. Remove the chiles to a work space. Using kitchen shears, cut off the chile stems, slice open the chiles, and remove the seeds and veins. Save a few seeds on the side, if you'd like to add them to your salsa later. (Do NOT use your fingers to de-seed/de-vein -- the seeds are super hot. I'd use a knife or little spoon.) Cover the chiles with hot water and let rest until the skin has softened, perhaps 10 minutes. Peel the garlic. In a molcajete, add the garlic and a pinch of sea salt. Grind together until it forms a paste. Then add the chiles, one at a time unless you're a whiz on the molcajete. Grind each chile until you no longer see big pieces of chile skin, and you've got a uniform paste. Add more water as you go, if it looks too thick. Taste for salt. Serve at room temperature with your favorite chips, tacos or quesadillas.
Mango season in Mexico is one of my favorite times of the year. It comes in the early spring, after tangerine season, when there’s nothing enticing on the market shelves except for hit-and-miss mameys and round, nubby guavas that looked better in the winter. It’s like everyone’s waiting, and then boom, there they are -- mango wedges sold in plastic cups on the street corners, mangos piled up at the tianguis, an army advancing on the rest of the produce. There’s nothing like that first slice from a vendor’s knife. It’s wet and sweet in a way that almost seems unreal. A few months ago, I had dinner at Azul Condesa, Ricard Muñoz Zurita's new restaurant. A special menu had ben devoted to mangoes, with all sorts of plates containing the fruit. My favorite was the mango pico de gallo, served in a large glass. It was sweet and spicy and tart, and Crayton and I annihilated it in minutes. Lucky for me, I ended up finding a mango pico de gallo recipe inside Zurita's cookbook, Salsas Mexicanas. (If you read Spanish, this is a great book to have.) The recipe, interestingly, calls for fish sauce, which creates a delightful Thai-type of flavor. Zurita says in the book that he got the recipe from a Filipina chef studying in Mexico. If you don't have any fish sauce, the pico is still quite good on its own. I imagine it'd be great with a spritz of lime. Just make sure you have fresh mangoes. Or you could probably even try it with other sweet fruits, like pineapple. Mango Pico de Gallo from Salsas Mexicanas by Ricardo Muñoz Zurita Serves 4 as an appetizer Note: The original recipe calls for manila mangoes, which are prized in Mexico for their sweetness. Other types of mangoes would probably work as well, as long as they're mature. On the fish sauce, I'd add a little bit at a time and taste as you go along. The two tablespoons adds a recognizable fishy flavor, but it mellowed out a bit as the pico sat at room temperature. Ingredients 1 very ripe beefsteak tomato, diced, with the skin and seeds 2 tablespoons of minced onion 1/4 cup of finely chopped cilantro, including stems 1 tablespoon of minced chile serrano (this is about one chile) 2 manila mangoes, about 250 grams each, peeled and cut into roughly two-centimeter cubes 2 tablespoons fish sauce* (see note) Directions Mix the first five ingredients together in a bowl, and add the fish sauce. Taste for either more fish sauce or perhaps a little salt. (I didn't use any.) Serve with tostadas.
If there is one chile you need to try in your life, it’s the chile pasilla oaxaqueña. The dried, wrinkly, pointy chile is almost cartoonishly smoky. It smells like a campfire, or like a match right after you’ve blown it out. And the taste! It’s woodsy and kind of fruity, and perfumed with smoke. Make a salsa with this baby and you’ve got everything you’ve ever wanted: acid. Heat. Fire. And just a little nudging of raisins and berries. This chile is hard to find outside of Oaxaca. I didn’t realize that until I came back from Oaxaca thinking, “I’ll go to Mercado Medellín and pick up some pasilla oaxaqueñas!” and my guy didn’t have any. Ending up finding them at Mercado San Juan, for eight pesos each. I paid -- that’s almost $1 per chile -- because the pasilla is worth it. This chile is also known as the mixe (pronounced MEE-hay) because it’s grown in the Sierra Mixe, which is a region east of Oaxaca City. In From My Mexican Kitchen: Techniques and Ingredients, Diana Kennedy says the chiles are grown in such small batches that they’ll probably never be imported on a large scale. Interestingly, my sister- and brother-in-law in New York recently found a “pasilla de Oaxaca” salsa at their local grocery store, made by Rosa Mexicano. If you haven’t tasted this chile before, I’d highly recommend making a table salsa. You can really do it any way you want, but the basic ingredients are the chiles and garlic. I don’t toast my chiles or add any onion, but you can. Really at the end you want to taste the pasilla as much as possible. If you can't find the pasilla oaxaqueña, this salsa also works with chile de árbol. Just make sure you use a good, hefty handful. Don't be afraid about making the salsa too hot -- the point of this dish is that the chile is the star. Tomatillo salsa with chile pasilla oaxaqueña Recipe first learned in Reyna Mendoza's cooking class Makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups Note: This tastes best at room temperature, so make sure you give it time to cool down before serving. Also, store your dried chiles in an air tight container, in a cool, dark place. Humidity enables mold growth. Ingredients 1 pound tomatillos, husked and washed 1 or 2 unpeeled cloves garlic, depending on your preference 2 chile pasilla oaxaqueñas or 8 chile de árbol salt Directions Place the chiles in a shallow dish and cover with very hot water. In the meantime, dry-roast the tomatillos on a comal until they’re soft and blackened in spots, and have turned a dull green color. Toast the garlic as well, ideally on the outer edges of the comal so it doesn’t burn. You want it softened too. Once the chiles have softened -- perhaps 10 to 15 minutes; if you need more time or to replenish the hot water, that's fine -- carefully cut open the chiles and remove the seeds. Place the chiles in a blender jar with the garlic and just a little water, perhaps two or three tablespoons. Blend until smooth. Then add tomatillos and blend until you reach your desired consistency. (For me it’s about 5 to 10 seconds.) Add salt to taste. Serve the salsa at room temperature.
Verdolagas, called purslane in English, are a popular edible green in Central Mexico. They're most commonly stewed with cubes of pork in tomatillo sauce, until the leaves are limp and soft. I've been a bit scared to try them -- I've met two people so far who absolutely hate verdolagas. (In The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, Diana Kennedy describes verdolagas as "curiously acid" and "very much an acquired taste.") But they're cheap and abundant right now. And they're much prettier than your average quelite. Verdolagas have these thick, teardrop shaped leaves, jutting out from a tender central stalk. (Photo from The Kitchn) No vegetable this beautiful could possibly taste bad. So, a few weekends ago, I bought a kilo at the tianguis. Tore off a raw leaf and ate it when I got home. The leaf tasted acidic and intense, almost minty. But it was not that bad. I wouldn't put verdolagas in a salad, but I'd most definitely serve them under a blanket of stewed tomatoes. Marichu had an easy-sounding verdolagas recipe that called for making a boiled tomatillo salsa, frying it, and then adding the greens. In the end, this seemed like exactly what the verdolagas needed. A fried, liquified tomatillo bath lessened some of the greens' harshness. In fact, after 20 minutes of cooking, I'd dare call the leaves sweet. They didn't dissolve under the weight of the salsa, either -- the leaves kept their hearty shape and texture. Served these with leftover alubias and warm tortillas. It was a humble, comforting meal. I'll leave you with a few sentences from Ricardo Muñoz Zurita's Encyclopedic Dicitonary of Mexican food, under the entry for verdolagas. He calls them "meaty and juicy," which I'm inclined to agree with. ** Portulaca oleracea L. (Portulacáceas). Quelite herbáceo de la familia de las portulcáceas; mide en promedio de 15 a 50 centímetros de largo. Es suave, carnoso, jugoso y de sabor ácido. Se aprecia mucho como verdura, principalmente para elaborar diversos guisos y caldos. Juega un papel importante en la gastronomía del centro del país, donde es especialmente famosa la carne de puerco con verdolagas. Su nombre náhuatl es itzmiquílitl. ** Recipe below. ...
One of my new favorite smells is the chile mora. It's a smoked, dried jalapeño, and therefore classified as a chipotle. But it's a bit sweeter and more raisin-like than the brown chipotles you see in the markets. It's also not as hot. (The chile morita, a cousin, is much spicier.) Chile moras smell so intoxicating -- a heady mix of chocolate, raisins, herbs and smoke -- that I was almost tempted to leave the batch I bought on my kitchen counter as an air freshener. But I bought them to make a salsa, so that's what I was going to do. If I didn't eat the chiles raw first. Decided to use the molcajete, and I used the same technique as in other molcajete salsas I've posted on this blog -- first grind the salt and aromatics, then the chiles, then the tomatoes. Each ingredient is added a little bit at a time to ensure the proper consistency. My problem was that the chiles just wouldn't break down. I'd gotten a few tough ones in my batch from the market, and their skin didn't soften even after 20 minutes in hot water. Plus this time I was envisioning a thin table salsa -- something that you could spoon into a taco, or over eggs. So I broke out the immersion blender. (You: "You did?") Yes, I did. A few quick pulses and a chorrito de agua and boom. I had what I wanted -- a salsa that had the consistency of a thick soup or porridge, with bits of chile seeds still visible. It should be noted that I still don't trust myself with a blender to make salsas. Of the two batches of salsa I made, the second one came out looking like pureed tomato sauce. (Still tasty, but the texture was, as Mexicans say, equis. Meaning mediocre and nothing special.) My preferred salsa texture veers toward the heftier side. Because the chile moras are so smoky, this salsa tastes good on just about anything. I liked it especially on sweet vegetables, which played off the mora's raisiny notes. Layered it on a corn tortilla between roasted onions and red peppers, and it was just about perfect. ...