Classic guacamole recipe

mi papel picado bicentenario

¡Feliz Día de la Independencia, México!

Did you watch the Grito last night?

In my house, we hung papel picado and waved our Mexican flag as we watched the celebration starting in Mexico City’s zócalo. My heart was filled with emotion seeing the zócalo, where I have stood in awe many times, brimming with people from all corners of Mexico to celebrate the bicentennial of Independence from Spain and 100 years since the Revolution.

If you missed the Grito, the shout of independence honoring Mexico’s national heroes, you can watch it here:

If you want to watch last year’s Grito and attempt a very traditional Independence Day recipe, you can check out the chiles en nogada I made and posted last year here on The Other Side of The Tortilla…. 

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AGUA FRESCA: AGUA DE PIÑA

During my last visit to Mexico City, I was a bit rushed to squeeze in my favorite places to eat since I was only in town for a few days before and after our family trip to Aguascalientes for Abuelita Ana’s birthday.

After visiting the Frida Kahlo museum with my suegra in the late morning and a quick stop at the mercado Coyoacán to pick up a few goodies to take back to Chicago, we headed to El Bajío in Polanco for lunch.

As we pulled up to the restaurant on the corner of Campos Elíseos and Alejandro Dumas, the afternoon sky turned gray and it looked as if it was going to rain. Just as we were seated it began to sprinkle and the dining room, usually bright with sunlight thanks to its large plate glass windows and a few skylights, grew a bit dim. One of the many things I love about Mexico City is how it sometimes rains in the afternoon just for a few hours and then the sun comes out shining again. The afternoon rain somehow always appears just at the right time for a siesta and reminds me to take it easy. It’s like mother nature’s way of telling us to rest and relax; to take respite from the daily grind to refresh our spirits.

Since we were in no hurry, what with the rain and all, we settled in to a cozy little table for two in the back near the beverage bar where they make the coffee and juices. We each decided to have agua de piña to drink, so when it came time to order we asked for a large pitcher to share. The pitchers used at El Bajío, and common all over Mexico, are made of a thick hand-blown glass with a cobalt blue rim. Sometimes there are little bubbles still in the glass – one of those slight imperfections that makes them so beautiful to begin with; a reminder that they’re handmade and each is unique.

My suegra has a set of these cobalt-rimmed drinking glasses as well as little tequila glasses in the liquor cabinet in the living room. I’ve always wanted to bring a set of these glasses home with me, but since my suitcase is usually full of other goodies, I never quite have the room. Someday I’ll reserve a spot in my suitcase for them to travel back with me, but until then I’ll just have to dream about it. And I’ve got many memories to choose from – every place I’ve ever been in Mexico, from Baja California Sur all the way east to Quintana Roo, I’ve been served aguas frescas in a cobalt-rimmed glass…. 

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SOPA DE TORTILLA

I love tortilla soup. I will order it just about anywhere, at any time of year, and I’ve been known to judge the entire menu of a restaurant solely on the quality of their sopa de tortilla. I’m obsessed in every sense of the word–and having not been able to find a version I deem delicious in Chicago, I learned how to make it.

This soup is very representative of a typical Mexican kitchen and uses the traditional flavors and textures of the tomato, chile, avocado, epazote and tortilla. I’ve never cared much for tomato-based soups or broths, but this soup converted me.

The secret, I’ve found, is adding a few crunchy little pieces of chicharrón (also known as pork rinds or cracklings here in the U.S.). They add a depth to the soup’s flavor that I’m convinced cannot be achieved otherwise. All of my favorite places in Mexico for tortilla soup serve it similarly; all the ingredients for assembling the soup are brought to the table separately and the waiter puts it together right in front of you, almost like a little show with your meal…. 

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Calling all cooks: I'm looking for sopa de tortilla recipes

3703322716_fc75434e76Though I’ve lived in Chicago most of my life, the chilly fall weather always seems to sneak up on me. Here we are in the middle of October and I’ve not made any tortilla soup yet! Those who know me will tell you: if I go to a restaurant with tortilla soup on the menu (even if it’s the middle of summer), I’ll order it. I’m serious about this soup, folks. I’ve been known to judge an entire restaurant solely on the quality of the tortilla soup they serve—no matter what else is on the menu.

The lack of tortilla soup in my house this far into October can only mean one thing: I’m about to go on a bender. So, I’m putting a call out. Send in your recipes and I will try each and every one I receive. The deadline to submit will be Friday, October 23rd and I’ll report back with both my recipe and my favorite recipe submitted by readers the week of November 15th.

I’ve got several favorite places in Mexico City where I go for tortilla soup and I’ll share those along with my recipe, too. You can submit your recipes here in the comments, or if you prefer, via email by clicking on the contact section to your right. There is one condition: your soup must be made from scratch with fresh ingredients (no canned soup bases) and should be based on tomatoes. I won’t try any recipe that isn’t based on tomatoes because then it wouldn’t be traditional tortilla soup.

Buena suerte!

AGUA FRESCA: AGUA DE JAMAICA

Flor de Jamaica WEB

flor de jamaica

Aguas frescas—literally, “fresh water” fruit drinks—are very common all over Mexico. They come in many flavors: horchata (made with a rice-base), sandía (watermelon), piña (pineapple), limón (lime), tamarindo (tamarind), naranja (orange), mango and so on. There are a lot of places in Mexico where you can buy aguas frescas out on the street, in the market, as pre-made powder mixes (also sold in the U.S.), etc., and many people make them at home from scratch because it’s so easy. Everytime we visit family in Mexico, nearly every meal made at home is accompanied by some kind of agua fresca. One of our favorite flavors is called jamaica—pronounced HAH-MY-CAH in English.

Jamaica is made like tea, infusing the flavor and purple-red color of hibiscus calyces. Like tea, jamaica is also a natural diuretic so don’t go drinking the whole pitcher in one day. (Yes, I once did that. I don’t think I need to explain what happened.) The only real variation among recipes are the ratios used of sugar to water, and whether or not you dilute the juice (and if so, how much) when serving.

Some households serve their jamaica a bit more tart like cranberry juice; we like ours a little sweeter (but not syrupy-sweet) and I dilute it by adding half a glass of water to half a glass of juice. I use granulated cane sugar because regular processed white sugar is too sweet.

RECETA:

AGUA DE JAMAICA

  • 2 cups (about 2 ounces) dried flor de jamaica (hibiscus flower calyces)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup granulated cane sugar
  • 8 cups water
Jamaica WEB

agua fresca de jamaica

Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a non-corrosive pot and add the flowers and the sugar. Stir to wet all the flowers and dissolve the sugar, and allow to boil for 3-5 minutes undisturbed.

Remove from heat, stir, and allow to steep and cool to room temperature for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Using a sieve over a pitcher, pour the liquid (with the flowers still in it) through the sieve to filter the flowers out. The flowers will have plumped up during rehydration. Press them against the sieve with your fingers or a spoon to extract any extra juice left inside.

Refrigerate. Yields about 6 cups of concentrated juice. When serving, cut with 50 percent water to dilute.

  • How do you make your jamaica?

SALSA VERDE (Cooked and Raw)

Tomatillos GAL

tomatillos milperos

Salsas are the lifeblood of just about every Mexican dish. They can be cooked or raw, made in the blender or in a molcajete. Salsa can make or break any dish, add a special dimension of flavor or even make a dish edible (you wouldn’t eat chicharrón without cooking it in salsa to soften the dried meat).

The simple combination of tomatoes (jitomate or tomatillos/red or green), chiles (of any variety) and other ingredients like onion, garlic and spices is essential to many traditional dishes in Mexican cuisine. Salsa verde is certainly a staple in my house, whether it’s cooked and used for guisados like chicharrón en salsa verde, or raw salsa used for garnishing tacos.

You’ll notice this same cooked salsa recipe will be used over and over again in a number of dishes you’ll read about here and I’ll reference back to it often and sometimes modify it (for example, when making chilaquiles, I substitute fresh chicken stock in place of water).

In Mexico, we’ve eaten similar recipes to mine at many of our favorite restaurants, though some places use epazote in their cooked salsa (an ingredient I don’t use). In Chicago, we haven’t found a place that makes salsa verde the way we like it—or anywhere near it, really. Because of this, we sometimes order take out from our favorite Mexican restaurants and bring it home to eat it with our own homemade salsa.

Chile Serrano WEB

chiles serranos

 

salsa cocida para chicharrón en salsa verde

salsa cocida para chicharrón en salsa verde

RECETA:

SALSA VERDE COCIDA

  • A little over 1 pound of small (milpero) tomatillos, dehusked & thoroughly washed
  • 3-6 serrano chiles (depending how spicy you like it; start with less and add them to increase heat), stems cut off
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 slices of white onion
  • A big pinch of Kosher salt

First, dehusk and wash the tomatillos well. You’ll notice they’re sticky, which is a sign of ripeness, and probably slightly dirty under the husk. Sometimes I find that warm water isn’t enough, and I use a few drops of dish soap diluted in a bowl of warm water. Then I put the dehusked tomatillos in the bowl and gently rub each one in the slightly soapy water to remove the dirt and sap. Rinse them well in cool water to remove any soap residue.

Fill a pot with water (large enough to fit all the tomatillos) and bring to a boil. Put the tomatillos in and cook in the boiling water until the tomatillo flesh begins to get transparent. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatillos to a blender. Add the onion, garlic and salt. Cut the stems off the serrano chiles and cut each chile into a few pieces so they’re easily chopped in the blender. Start by adding 2 chiles to the blender with about ¾ of a cup of water and blend on high (liquify or puree) until smooth and the chiles and tomatillos are completely incorporated. Taste the salsa to see if it’s too hot; if it needs more chile, add them one at a time, blending & tasting the result until you are happy with the level of heat from the chiles. If it seems the salsa is not quite liquid enough, add another ¼ cup of water. The salsa will reduce slightly when cooked.

Pour blender contents into a saucepan and heat over medium flame until the salsa boils, occasionally stirring. Remove from heat and allow to cool before storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Stores well for about 10 days.

  • Tip: for extra flavor with salsa verde cocida, you can also add 2 strips of chicharrón (with meat still attached) to season the salsa. You should add the chicharrón during the end stage when you cook the salsa until it boils for a few minutes, then remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature before storing to infuse the chicharrón flavor. This flavor infusion method only works with the cooked salsa.

 

salsa cruda con carnitas

salsa cruda con carnitas

RECETA:

SALSA VERDE CRUDA

Repeat the same cleaning method for the tomatillos as above, and using same ingredients.

Instead of cooking the tomatillos and boiling the salsa after blending, put the raw tomatillos directly into the blender with all other ingredients. Add the chiles to taste, starting with 2 and adding more if necessary. If it’s too dry, add a few tablespoons of water to the ingredients and blend well until smooth. Stores in an airtight refrigerated container for up to 3 days.

  • What do you do differently in making your salsas verdes or where is your favorite place to eat a dish that includes salsa verde?
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