FRIJOLES CHARROS

frijoles charros

For weeks, José has been bugging me to make his Tía Carola’s frijoles charros. Outside of El Charco de Las Ranas, his favorite taquería in Mexico City, Tía Carola’s frijoles charros are the only ones he has ever raved about.

Until now.

When I asked for the recipe a few weeks ago, it felt like I was playing “teléfono descompuesto” with at least three people – where something surely gets lost every time someone relays the message on to another person. José called his sister, who called his aunt; then his sister called him back and he translated the ingredients to me. Note that he only relayed the ingredient list and not the portions. And he only got a vague set of instructions. Apparently, Tía Carola is not exactly keen on lots of details and also hasn’t made this dish in at least 10 years. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous about making this vaunted recipe with such a vague idea of what I was supposed to do.

I returned from the store with a big bag of frijoles pintos (in English: pinto beans). José argued with me that I had bought the wrong beans because they were supposed to be frijoles bayos. I knew that, but couldn’t find them at the store so I settled confidently on a hand-sifted bag of carefully chosen pinto beans. I settled the argument with a quick google search that ended in my favor, which had me secretly feeling proud on the inside that I knew frijoles pintos and frijoles bayos were not the same, but often interchangeable because of their similarities in taste, color and texture ‑ especially in this recipe.

I knew when José argued with me about the beans that he was going to be a tough customer to please. I lit one of my San Judas Tadeo candles (the patron saint of lost causes and desperate situations) and hoped for a culinary Hail Mary pass with my limited instructions and the guesswork lying ahead. I was short on time with no room for mistakes since I was making the frijoles charros for lunch on a weekday and all I had as a backup were some emergency TV dinners in the freezer. Who could have ever imagined there could be so much pressure behind a pot of beans?

As I served the frijoles charros, my stomach was in knots. Would they live up to Tía Carola’s recipe? I waited for the verdict as he savored the first spoonful…. 

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ALBÓNDIGAS EN SALSA CHIPOTLE

This past weekend I had the pleasure of speaking at the Blogalicious Weekend conference at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach in Florida. I had an absolutely incredible time and was inspired by so many of the women I met, but more on that later this week.

albóndigas

The kind folks at Kenmore hosted a pop-up kitchen at the conference and invited me several weeks ago to do a cooking demo using their kitchen. There was one challenge: I had to choose a recipe that could be made only using small appliances.

I thought for several days about what I could make with only access to a blender, a convection toaster oven, a toaster, a stand mixer, an induction pad, a food processor, a coffee maker or teakettle and a slow cooker. It was a tough decision because I really wanted to make rajas con crema, but without a sink and an oven, I didn’t think I could pull it off.

A few weekends ago, my mom was foraging through my refrigerator looking for a snack and I ended up giving her some albóndigas (meatballs) over rice. She loved them so much that she gobbled up the last of what little was left in a Tupperware from a few nights before.

The next day at 7 a.m. – a Sunday – my mom called to tell me she’d been up all night thinking about albóndigas and that she needed my recipe so she could make them herself that day. Seldom in my life has my mom, who is an amazing cook, called me for a recipe – it’s always me calling her. That’s when I decided if they were good enough for mom to call me at 7 a.m. on a Sunday and risk waking me up on the one day a week that I like to sleep in, then the Blogalicious crowd would surely love this recipe, too. If you weren’t able to see it live in Miami, check out the video below of the cooking demo from start to finish.

YouTube Preview Image

Albóndigas are a simple comfort food, easy to make and even easier to eat. Some people like to make their albóndigas bigger so they can accommodate a whole egg filling on the inside. José only likes them without egg, so a few months ago I finally learned this recipe from our family friend, Esmeralda. This is her recipe, so we fondly call it albóndigas estilo Esme (or in English: meatballs, Esme-style) in our house. It’s a simple but traditional Mexican food sure to please the whole family…. 

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SOPA DE FIDEO

sopa de fideo

Sopa de fideo is a comfort food for me–full of one specific fond memory.

Let me explain. Last summer, after more than a decade of dreaming about visiting Teotihuacan, I finally made the 40-kilometer trip northeast of Mexico City with my suegro and my cuñada. I had yearned to visit this archaeological site since I first learned about it in history books as a kid. The Aztec pyramids fascinated me and I never dreamed I’d be able to travel there, let alone make it all the way to the top of the famed Pirámide del Sol.

After what seemed like a long car ride on the highway from Mexico City (in reality, it was only about 25 miles), we finally arrived at Teotihuacan. I had worn loose clothes to be comfortable while climbing, and as it was cloudy, I decided against wearing a hat. I had also decided that I couldn’t climb to the top of the Pirámide del Sol without toting two cameras so I could have the advantage of shooting photos with two different lenses without risking getting dirt in my camera’s sensor. Sort of crazy on all accounts, right?… 

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RAJAS CON CREMA

rajas con crema

Rajas con crema, a hearty dish made with poblano chiles, onion, Mexican sour cream and a little bit of cheese, is a favorite in my house. And by favorite, I mean that over the last few months we’ve been eating it at least once a week. As one friend puts it, “anything that comes out of your kitchen at least once a week has got to be good.”

There are two tests for me to know if I’ve made a good batch: first, whether I get a “que rico,” and second, whether I get a “pica.” I know it’s particularly yummy when I get a groan with the first bite and a “pica bien rico!” According to José, rajas con crema are the best when the poblanos have a spicy bite, but they’re not too hot. Usually you can tell how hot the poblanos are when you’re removing the seeds after roasting because the heat will burn your skin and if you breathe in too deeply, you might cough. If those two things don’t happen, sometimes I skip the vinegar and water soak after roasting the chiles. If you soak them too long and all the heat dissipates, the chiles are a little sweet rather than spicy but still delicious nonetheless…. 

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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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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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