Archives for category: Mexico

This post comes to you from the Bahamas, where I’m visiting friends for the week, via my friend Daurie in Mexico.

Daurie and I met years ago as high school students in Vermont; it’s a cliche to say we became fast friends, but, well, we did. I would sleep over her house on school nights so we could get up at six in the morning to go for four-mile runs out past her father’s deer farm. For my sixteenth birthday she threw me a surprise party—I can remember about ten of us staying up the whole night in the woods behind her house, in thick snow, playing under the moonlight. She is also the first person I cooked spinach with; the recipe called for something like “a whole bunch” and that just seemed absurd, so we used only about 1 cup. To our disbelief, after cooking we were left with about two bites of sautéed spinach.

Nowadays Daurie teaches at the Centro Cultural de Lenguas, a language school in downtown Morelia, in Michoacán, Mexico. As a very cool assignment, she had her intensive students write a traditional Mexican recipe in English, with a small paragraph introducing the dish. Then I would select the best one and publish the winning recipe here on Mostly Food.

It was difficult choosing a winner. All the recipes—from chilaquiles to stuffed poblano peppers—were charming, funny, well written. In the end, I selected the gazpacho, in part because as summer rolls around, this would make for a refreshing bite—and I like the part about Gaspar and his missing teeth. As you’ll see it’s different than Spanish gazpacho, which is a cold soup mainly of pureed tomatoes. This version is fruit based: pineapple, mango, jicama and fresh orange juice, and comes to us courtesy of Omar, Vicente, and Alfredo (pictured in the bottom photo).

Mexican Gazpacho

One time in a fruit store, when the fruit was chopped in big pieces, an old man came to buy fruit. However, he had a problem with his teeth because he only had a few them. Then the old man asked the owner of the place for a favor. He said, “Please chop the fruit in little pieces, because I can’t eat it in big pieces.” So the man chopped the fruit and put it in a glass with some orange juice. That’s how the old man always came back to buy the same fruit. One time the man asked his name. It was Gaspar and for that reason the name is Gazpacho.

Preparation time: 20 min.
Servings: 7

1 Pineapple
5 Mangos
2 Jicamas
1 Liter Orange juice
1 Cup. Grated cheese
2 Limes
1/2 Tsp. Salt
Chile piquin to taste
Valentina salsa to taste

1. Wash the fruit.
2. Peel the fruit and cut into small pieces.
3. Put the ingredients in a bowl and mix.
4. Add the orange juice.
5. Cut the 2 limes in half and squeeze the juice on the mix.
6. Add grated cheese, salt, chile piquin and valentina salsa to taste.
7. It’s ready to enjoy.

It all started with a corn tortilla. Not just any corn tortilla. The Hot Bread Kitchen handmade corn tortillas lovingly pressed by hand and cooked over a hot comal.

My friend Mark loves these tortillas, and tortillas in general. So when I saw them at the co-op last week I couldn’t resist picking up a package of six. (They sell these at the greenmarket in Union Square on Wednesdays too.) I figured they’d go well with all the black turtle beans in our cupboard, if nothing else.

So finally this weekend Mark and I had the opportunity to cook together – we had previously soaked and cooked the black beans so that part was done. They were fragrant with bay leaves and garlic. Feeling ambitious, despite the late hour we were starting, we decided on enchiladas, rather than what would have been the quicker (but perhaps less gratifying) tacos with beans. With spring onions and asparagus in the fridge from a recent greenmarket purchase, we decided on braising these in the oven as a side dish.

The fridge and spice cupboard revealed the additional makings for the enchiladas; there was Carr Valley Bread Cheese from Murray’s Cheese (it’s a Finnish-style, mild, oven-baked cheese), and the true stars (and work horses) of this dish: Guajillo Chili Peppers from Penzeys Spices and Happy Quail Farms Pepper Chips from the San Francisco Bay Area, transported to Brooklyn on Mark’s carry-on recently.

The first thing we had to do was soak the peppers in a hot water bath – this becomes the basis for the spicy enchilada sauce. We boiled 1-2 cups of water in the kettle then poured it over the peppers in a bowl, and let soak for 20 minutes.

Peppers hydrating in hot water

As these were soaking I added the onions to a cold water bath to thoroughly clean these sandy alliums for our vegetable side dish. I changed the water once or twice to make sure they were free of all grit then patted dry.

I pre-heated the oven to 400 degrees and into a glass casserole dish went 3 tbsp unsalted butter, 1/2 c white wine, and the onions (with green tops and all). Mark grated some fresh nutmeg over the onions, and added salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Then into the oven, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes. I washed the asparagus stalks (about 1/2 pound) and set aside (these guys will get steamed and later added to the onion dish).

Grating nutmeg over the onions

Back to the enchiladas…now comes the fun part. Using a food mill we puréed the peppers over a large bowl (liquid and all) for what seemed like quite a long time – just when I’d think I couldn’t possibly squeeze anything else from these peppers Mark would say gently, “Just a little more.”

Transferring the peppers to the food mill

Puréeing the peppers

When there really was little life left to squeeze out of the peppers we added an 8-ounce can of tomato sauce – this thickens the overall sauce, adding more body and, crucially, tempers the heat. We also then slowly added somewhere between 4-5 tbsp of olive oil.

Adding olive oil to the puréed tomato-pepper sauce

At this point it was time to remove the braised onions from the oven and steam the asparagus on the stovetop for five minutes. We added the asparagus to the baking dish and mixed it with the lovely juices of the braising liquid and onions. Keep warm, set aside.

Asparagus and spring onions in white wine and butter

It was almost time to soak the tortillas in the sauce – but the sauce was still fiery hot so we added about 2 tbsp honey to smooth out the flavor. It still packed a lot of heat but not unbearably so. Then we added the tortillas to the sauce to soak them and make the tortillas more pliable (you wouldn’t want to soak as long with fresh or homemade tortillas, but these HBK ones come refrigerated so they’re not quite malleable) and absorb the flavors. We couldn’t get them soft enough to roll up entirely, so we decided to leave them in the shape of a taco, half-folded.

Tortillas meet sauce

We coated the bottom of a cast-iron skillet (it was either a 10- or 12-inch pan) with a bit of the sauce then folded each tortilla and placed in the skillet. To each tortilla we added slices of the cheese then the black beans. We topped the whole dish off with the remaining fiery sauce before putting into the still-hot 400-degree oven for 15-20 minutes.

When I checked on the enchiladas the tortillas had turned a crispy brown and the beans were bubbling along with the melted, creamy cheese.

When ready to serve we squeezed fresh lime over the enchiladas and dove in. Served with the spring onion-asparagus dish we had ourselves a mouthwatering, eye-watering,  good meal. It was topped off by a dessert of Mark’s homemade strawberry shortcake, a cool finish to the evening somewhere ’round midnight.

Hot enchiladas in the skillet

At lunch yesterday, Manuel and Satomi told me about a dish that Manuel’s grandmother used to make for him back in Puebla, Mexico: tapado de pollo, which literally means “covered chicken.” The chicken is cooked slowly over low heat in a covered skillet, or you could even make this in a dutch oven or Le Creuset pan.

Spiced with cinnamon and crushed cloves, the chicken stews in roma tomatoes with plump raisins and sliced almonds. Savory and a little bit sweet, this is a quick and easy dinner to whip up with ingredients you might already have on hand. Manuel – don’t tell your grandmother but I did make a few adjustments.

As soon as I brought the chicken thighs home I washed and patted them dry with paper towels, then generously salted them on both sides and put them in the fridge for a few hours until I was ready to cook. This is an old trick I learned from one of Alice Waters’s cookbooks – she’s a firm believer in salting chicken for as long as possible before cooking, whether that’s just an hour or two, or day or two. It improves the flavor immensely and, some say, keeps the meat moist.

As for my variations on the recipe, I used shallots instead of onions; increased the garlic; added cumin, nutmeg, and ichimi (crushed Japanese red pepper) for more depth and kick; added a little bit of red wine to the cooking liquid; and somewhat re-ordered the steps.

Tapado de pollo

2 chopped shallots
5 chopped cloves of garlic
6-7 chicken thighs, organic if possible, bone on, skin off
6 chopped roma tomatoes
1/4 c red wine
1/3 c raisins
1/3 tsp cinnamon
1/3 tsp crushed cloves
1/3 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ichimi or crushed red pepper
1/3 c sliced almonds, toasted in a skillet for about 5 minutes to bring out the flavor
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil

Heat approx. 2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, sauté until softened but not brown, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken and sauté on each side for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes – juice, seeds, and all – along with about 1/4 c red wine. Cover with a lid and cook for about 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.

At this point the chicken will be about halfway cooked; there should be a lot of liquid in the pan, and the tomatoes will start breaking down. Add the raisins, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cumin, and ichimi. Stir, then cover and cook for another, say, 10 minutes, before adding the almonds (you don’t want the almonds to get too soft). Add salt and pepper, to taste, and continue cooking over low heat until the chicken is cooked through and the aromas start traveling down the hallway to your neighbor’s apartment.

I served this with Japanese short-grain rice and sautéed chard.

This was so easy and oishii I think I’ll include this dish in my regular rotation. Thank you Manuel and Satomi!

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