We’re getting our first winter storm here in Las Cruces. Earlier this week it was still in the 70s, sun shining and beautiful in November, but things took a turn Thursday afternoon. The snow started in the evening last night and this Sunday morning it’s been snowing on and off — enough so you feel absolutely free to do absolutely nothing.
A nice warming bowl of beef soup, with potatoes and corn.
There might be a temptation to make chicken caldo, but no one in the house is sick, thank goodness. Instead, my Dad had it in his head to make some cocido — a beef soup with potatoes, cabbage, carrots and corn, flavored with a little cilantro and finished with a squeeze of lime. That sounded wonderful to me, so I went with him down to the Mexican market.
A few years ago, he decided to “experiment” and added some turnips to the mix, which looked awfully like potatoes and were an unpleasant surprise to those of us who weren’t expecting them and had never tried them. They’ve grown on me a bit but I’m still not a fan of them in beef soup. Some families add calabasas (zucchini squash), though we never have.
Anyway, we went into town in the melting snow. We brought back some beef short ribs, beef shanks and a little bit of stew meat, picked up some corn tortillas, ears of corn, cabbage and red potatoes. The turnips didn’t look that great and I said so to my dad. But when I was unpacking the bags of produce, there were two sad little roots that he’d snuck in there. Now I’ll now I have to be careful when I’m serving myself in a few hours.
Cocido de res (Beef soup)
2-2 1/2 pounds beef short ribs
1 pound beef shanks (try to pick meaty ones)
1 pound stew meat
1 tablespoon salt
2 pounds red potatoes
head of cabbage, cut into eighths
3 ears of corn, cut into 2-inch wide rounds
1-14 ounce can chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped, or to taste
Place meat and onion in a large stew pot and cover with water to about double its depth. Season with salt. Bring water to a boil, skimming any foam, then lower to simmer. Cook for about an hour and a half, until the meat is tender.
Add the carrots and simmer for 15 minutes. Add potatoes, simmer another 15 minutes. You can use russet potatoes, but those tend to fall apart. White or red potatoes hold their shape better.
Then add corn, tomatoes and cilantro, cook for 15 minute. Taste broth and add more salt if needed. Add the cabbage last, so that it keeps its shape, cooking for about 15 to 20 minute. You can serve this with Spanish rice and a squirt of lime juice. I love to eat it with a warm corn tortilla spread with lime juice and some salt.
I’m usually not influenced by National Fill-in-the-blank Day or Sad-Disease Awareness Month, but I got an email at work about National Taco Day — on Oct. 4 — and it made me hungry for tacos. Being from the US, I’m more of a fried taco kinda gal — stuffed with ground meat and shredded potatoes, topped with freshly diced tomatoes, onions, lettuce, crema and my Mom’s salsa, I could eat them pretty much every day if I didn’t worry about fitting into my jeans.
Grilled chicken tacos on fresh (slightly misshappened) corn tortillas.
But this particular come-on was asking for original recipes, which was good inspiration for the blog. While I was at it, I thought I’d try for something a little lighter than our usual deep fried stuff. I recently visited El Taco Tote in El Paso, part of a Southwestern restaurant chain that proves that sometimes a chain can really get it right. We had some awesome chicken tacos with fixings that included pickled onions. They were tart and crunchy, adding a whole new flavor and texture to my tacos. I needed to try making these, too.
I flipped though “Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico” (Bright Sky Press, $34.95), a beautifully photographed and lovingly written cookbook published last year by Houston chefs Hugo and Ruben Ortega that I’ve been meaning to cook out of. There on page 128 were my pickled red onions. I made those midweek and with that and the delicious tacos from a few weeks ago as inspirations, set to work.
I also figured this was a good excuse to try making fresh corn tortillas for the first time. I used the Maseca mix, but I really have a secret desire to get dried corn and soak it in cal, or lime, before grinding it up in a yet-to-be purchased Vitamix for fresh corn masa. (Of course, this could just my twisted way of justifying spending $500 on a blender. I’m getting back to my ancient culture through modern technology!)
I dragged my sister Veronica and her daughter Joie into my adventure. I put Veronica to work on a tomatillo-guacamole salsa while I concocted a super simple spice rub and pounded some bonessless, skinless chicken breasts that we quickly cooked on the grill. The Joie Bug was in charge of squishing the corn masa in the tortilla press. She got pretty good by the end. With all the help, we managed to get dinner on the table in about an hour and a half — which is perfectly acceptable for a Sunday dinner — and this can come together much more quickly if you’re not foolish enough to make your own tortillas.
The chicken was lightly spicy and tender, and the combination of the tart pickled onions and creamy guacamole looked pretty and tasted great. And because it’s not deep-fried and accompanied by sour cream and cheese, topped instead with heart-healthy avocado salsa, it’s pretty healthful.
Grilled Chicken Tacos with Pickled Onions
3 tablespoons pasilla chile powder
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Six boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Pickled red onion (recipe below)
Tomatillo-guacamole salsa (recipe below)
2 plum tomatoes, diced, for garnish
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped, for garnish
12-16 corn tortillas, warmed on a comal or griddle
Heat your gas or charcoal grill. Meanwhile, mix together the spices to create a rub. With a meat mallet, pound the chicken to about 1/2 inch thickness. Sprinkle generously with the rub. (You should still have some left over for another use.)
Cook over medium heat, about 4-5 minutes per side. Take off grill and slice into strips. Serve in warm corn tortillas with pickled onions, salsa, tomatoes and cilantro if desired.
Pickled red onions
Best made at least one day ahead. It will last at least two weeks in the refrigerator
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup apple cider vineger
1 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano (this is a very assertive herb, you can omit if you prefer)
2 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place onions in deep, non-corrosive container. Place a saucepan over medium heat, add vinegar and juices, bringing to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over onion, making sure it is completely submerged in liquid. Add oregano, salt and pepper then still to combine. Allow to cool to room temperature. Stir occasionally. Cover and refrigerate 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Transfer to a jar or airtight plastic container.
2 serrano chiles
3 ripe avocados
1/4 cup cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of one lime (or two Key limes)
Remove the husks from tomatillos and wash away sticky residue. Remove the stem from chile. Serranos are pretty hot, so you can go with only one chile or remove the vein and seeds for a more mild salsa.
Place tomatillos and chile in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high and cook about 5 minutes, until the tomatillos and chile turn a dull green color and are easily pieced with a knife. Place in a blender with a small amount of the boiling liquid, about 1/4 cup. Blend well. Split avocados in half, remove seed and scoop out the flesh into the blender. Add cilantro and lime juice. Blend again until you have a smooth, creamy salsa. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste.
The “Food Lover’s Companion” goes with So-PAI-pilla, my family’s always said so-PA-pilla, but either way, they’re deep fried goodness and a tradition here in New Mexico.
I was digging through my recipe organizer for a recipe I knew was in there for “Nina Rinda’s Famous Vodka Sauce.” Doesn’t that sound awesome, too? It is.
A hand-written recipe for sopapillas, a fritter common in New Mexico and Texas. Usually topped with honey or sugar.
But my recipe “organizer” is really just a binder crammed with recipes I’ve clipped out of newspapers, handwritten index cards and recipe printouts from the internet. Digging through this unorganized mess, I stumbled across an even older recipe.
It’s written on floral heart-shaped notepaper I swear I had in the ’80s, or at the very latest the 1990s. It was a recipe I had written down from my Aunt Socorro, who gets name-checked a lot in this blog. It’s a yeast variation of the New Mexican/Southwestern treat, which apparently originated in Albuquerque more than 200 years ago. They are pretty much just deep-fried tortilla dough slathered with honey or sugar — sometimes cinnamon sugar or syrup. I’d say they’re a bit like beignet but not quite as refined. When my granny used to make them, she’d just set aside a few balls of tortilla dough and fry those up as a treat for my sister and me. My aunt was more of a baker, so she used yeast — which several sopapilla recipes I’ve seen call for. I’ve always been afraid of yeast and bread making, which is why I think I’ve had this recipe for decades but never had the nerve to try it.
But my friend Aleta gave me some sourdough starter a couple of years ago and I’ve been playing around with that and baking sourdough bread, so this time it didn’t seem so daunting. And since I’ve been baking bread, I had a whole jar of yeast in my fridge just ready to go.
My niece and nephew seemed a little dubious of the whole operation because as California kids, they didn’t know how delicious sopapillas are, but they learned pretty quickly as these puffy little gems came out of the hot oil.
Give making sopapillas a try. They really aren’t nearly as intimidating as I had been afraid of, and unlike a lot of yeast breads, didn’t require a long rise time. With a drizzle of mesquite honey, they are a real New Mexican treat.
1/4 cup warm water
1 package (2 teaspoons) dry active yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons shortening, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups milk
6 cups flour, sifted
Canola oil for frying
Honey, powdered sugar of table sugar for garnish
In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water, add 1 teaspoon sugar and set aside until the yeast becomes foamy.
In a medium bowl, place salt, shortening, sugar and milk. Add yeast mixture. Then, little by little, add the sifted flour until you get the consistency of tortilla dough. You might not need the full 6 cups. I would describe the dough as firm but slightly tacky. Definitely not dry.
Knead the dough out on a floured board for about 7 to 10 minutes. The dough will become slightly more elastic. My niece Joie had a lot of fun with the part of the process. Then break off golf-ball sized rounds of dough.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a deep frying pan or wok to about 375 degrees. You’ll see it shimmer, but not so hot that it’s smoking. Take the balls of dough and roll them out tortilla style into 1/4-inch thick rounds, then cut them into quarters. Slip them carefully into the oil. You can test it with a small piece of dough it should sink but them bob right up to the top in a bubbly whirl of oil.
My grandma’s were pretty fluffy, but these yeast versions really poofed up — some looked like puffer fish and were a little hard to flip over. Fry about a minute or so, until golden brown on one side, then turn over for another minute. Drain in a plate or colander lined with paper towels. Allow to cool briefly, but you really want to eat them when they hot and steamy when you break them open.
Top with a bit of honey, powdered sugar or some cinnamon sugar (Confession: as a kid, I just liked them with plain old granulated sugar, which stuck to the oil from the fryer. Terribly good.).
Joie gives kneading a try.
Pull off golf-ball sized rounds of dough that you can roll out and cut into quarters.
Deep fry to a golden brown.
Drain the golden brown puffs of dough on paper towels.
These sopapillas are drizzled with mesquite honey.
Putting up fruits and vegetables from the harvest is really hot right now, with many people getting back to preserving. End of summer brings tons of peaches at farmers markets. Tomatoes are everywhere. A few years ago, I had a bumper crop of tomatoes in my California garden — enough to fill the length and width of my countertops — and I spent an entire hot afternoon canning them. (I did sort of curse myself when I considered that I could buy perfectly good canned tomatoes for $2 at Trader Joe’s, but when I was making pasta sauce with my home-grown tomatoes in the middle of winter, I forgot all about the hard work.)
Sisters Veronica, left, Norma and brother-in-law Jacinto Palomino peeling roasted green chile.
Here in New Mexico, it’s time to roast and store our chile crop for the coming year and that’s what me and my sisters and brother-in-law did this weekend.
We have a “connection” for our chile. My brother-in-law’s dad, Jay Palomino, grows his own small patch of chile in Dona Ana. It’s only a few acres but he put in five kinds of chile — Big Jims (mild-medium), Sandia (medium hot) and Barker (hot), all long greens, as well as jalapenos and chile guero, the yellow jalapenos.
After a whole weekend of hauling and roasting chile, Jay wasn’t too motivated to go out for the hot chiles my mom wanted when there was a couple of bushel bags of Big Jims right there. It’s hard to argue with free, so we took them.
If you can get someone to roast the chiles for you, that’s the only way to do it. They have these nifty propane roasters that rotate and blister all sides of the chile pretty evenly (there’s a video below). But people outside the Mesilla Valley often don’t have access to that, so I’ll share some tips for preserving your green chile crop. And if I get the gumption, I’ll even share the recipe for chile rellenos that I made as a reward for all our hard work.
We did two bushels of green chile, which took about 3 hours to roast, not including the hour or so we let them sit in the plastic bag steaming away. My sister Norma says she usually stashes them in a cooler overnight to continue steaming and cool down — making them easier to handle and peel. I have to try that next time but we were too impatient.
If you can’t get your chiles roasted for you, choose chiles that are meaty, firm and FLAT. The rounded and curved ones taste just the same, but the flat ones are easier to roast and peel. A produce manager I talked to once gave me these tip: Rub the skin, a fresh chile will squeak. Look for sturdy stems that are not dried out. For hotter chiles, look for ”stretch marks,” a sign that they grew fast in the desert heat.
There are several ways to roast chiles: outdoors on a grill; on the stove-top over a gas flame or on a griddle; or under the broiler. Turn the chiles until the skin is blistered on all sides, about two to three minutes per side on an open flame. Be careful to char just the skin, not the flesh.
Put the roasted chiles in a plastic bag or in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. When they have cooled, peel off the skins and remove the stems. Leave in the seeds if you like your chile hotter, remove them if you don’t. If you want to make chiles rellenos, reserve some thick-fleshed, long chiles with sturdy stems. We had a nice little stack of “save for Rellenos” because the batch we got were meaty and even for Big Jims, had a nice little kick.
To freeze, allow the chiles to cool completely. We used the quart-sized heavy duty Ziploc freezer bags which are the perfect size for long green chiles. My sister taught me this new trick too, lay six stem-in first, then six stem-out and they’ll lay nice and flat and you’ll have a dozen chiles per pack. For each bushel we got about 16 quart bags.
This is my favorite time of the year in New Mexico. If you roll the windows down, you can smell the chile in the fields. They’ll have a faint blush of red on them. We grow long greens here in New Mexico, and the best come from the Hatch Valley, just down the road from us. Big Jims and Sandia are the most common. They’ve got plenty of heat from the blistering New Mexico sun, but they’ve also got a rich flavor. It’s not all about the heat, even if my Dad thinks it is. Big Jims are delectable as the stars in Chile Rellenos. I’ve never been a strict partisan in the red vs. green wars when it comes to enchiladas. I love them both. But when they’re pulling green chiles fresh from the bushes, it’s green enchilada time.
Here in the Borderland, many of the grocery stores will roast your chiles for you. And boy does that save a ton of time. When I was a kid, we’d visit family here in the Mesilla Valley, then haul a bushel of long greens back home to California. In those days, you couldn’t get New Mexico chile at any old grocery store. All they had there were Anaheims, and that is a lesser green chile.
We’d spend a whole afternoon toasting the chiles on my mom’s cast iron comal. The air would be heavy and fragrant with smoke and we could tell if the chile was hot if we choked. We’d put the blistered chile in a plastic bag let them sweat for about 15 minutes then peel the skins off. After that, we’d put them in sandwich bags and pop them in the freezer. There would be almost enough to last until the next time we visited New Mexico.
In honor of the green chile harvest, here’s a recipe for green chile enchiladas.
GREEN ENCHILADA CASSEROLE
2 10-ounce cans cream of mushroom soup
2 soup cans non-fat or 2 percent milk
16 to 18 roasted green chiles (New Mexico or Anaheim), chopped
1 medium onion
Vegetable oil for frying (See Note)
24 corn tortillas
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat cans of soup and milk in a large saucepan. Add chopped green chiles. Simmer enchilada sauce on low while you prepare the tortillas. Chop onion and rinse in cold water. Set aside.
In a frying pan, heat about 1/4 inch of oil over medium-high. Fry each tortilla briefly until softened and heated through. Drain on paper towels.
Spread a small amount of the enchilada sauce on the bottom of a 9-by-13-by-2-inch oven-proof casserole dish. Begin to layer the casserole like a lasagna. Start with a layer of 6 overlapping corn tortillas. You can tear them in quarters if you wish to make it easier to fill in, but I usually leave them whole. Add more enchilada sauce, then cheese and onions. Repeat 3 times. Top with the last of the cheese.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake about 20 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.
Note: To lighten this dish, instead of frying, spray the corn tortillas on both sides with cooking spray and put on a baking sheet. Place in the oven for several minutes until the tortillas are softened and warmed through. You’ll need to do these 6 to 8 at a time, depending on the size of your baking sheet.
Stacked enchiladas: For an even quicker meal, you can make enchiladas to order — just for the number of people you’re serving. After frying the corn tortillas, 2-3 per person, dip each tortilla in the sauce and stack them up like pancakes on a plate, layered with cheese and onions. Many people also top the stack with an over-easy fried egg.
Rolled enchiladas: If you prefer your enchiladas rolled, dip each fried tortilla in the sauce, lay flat on a plate, fill with shredded cheese and diced onions, then roll, topping each with a little more sauce and cheese. Place enchiladas on oven-safe serving plates or line them up in a casserole dish, top with remaining sauce and cheese, and bake uncovered at 350 degrees until cheese is melted and enchiladas are heated through.
My nephew was home after a one-year tour in Okinawa, Japan. After the big welcome home party, we just spent time hanging out with him and his cute French girlfriend who had come to meet him and the family here in New Mexico. After a whirlwind tour, things have settled down a bit and we had a nice, relaxing weekend of just hanging out.
The way we tend to show the love in our family is through food. And that guy loves shrimp, so I told him I’d make him some. I threw out camarones a la diabla, ceviche, or a nice shrimp cocktail. That’s what he chose. This one I made is based on a seafood cocktail from my Baja cookbook.
I simplified the recipe, which only takes about 30 minutes of active time, but does need to be done ahead of time because the shrimp needs to cool and the cocktail needs about 2 hours to chill.
20 ounce package of frozen, raw shrimp
1 cucumber, seeded and diced
2 large roma tomatoes
1/4 red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 jalapeno finely diced (remove seeds and veins if you want a milder cocktail)
2 cups Clamato or tomato juice
1/4 cup Tabasco sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon kosher salt.
2 medium avocados, diced
In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add shrimp and cook until just opaque. Take off the heat and allow the shrimp to cook in the liquid.
After the shrimp has cooled and drain. Chop all of the vegetables, and one of the avocados, and combine in a medium bowl. Add the Clamato, Tabasco and salt. The mixture should be soupy. Put in the refrigerator to chill and for flavors to meld. Before serving, top with diced avocado from the second avocado as garnish.
My cousin Lisa is graduating after a long, hard slog through New Mexico State University. As she put it on her graduation party invitations, it was “un milagro.” The address on the invitation was our house — which means we were in charge of the catering. If anyone knows how to do it up, it’s the Ulloa women. My mom was in charge of the menu. A big pot of beans, Spanish rice and two types of tacos — carne asada and carnitas, a dish that has become one of my signatures. It’s from this cookbook I scored when they were getting rid of some of the cookbooks from the San Jose Mercury News.
It’s called “Baja! Cooking on the Edge.” It’s got a great, breezy style and there are a lot of good recipes in it for different salsas, fish tacos and the like from the Baja California region, which has become Mexico’s more happening culinary and wine areas. I’ve used the book well enough that pages are starting to fall out. But the one dish that I never fail to get compliments on is the carnitas. It’s not hard, and it definitely an inexpensive way to entertain. Country style pork ribs, the main ingredient, is one of the most economical of cuts of meat. The only investment you will need to make is one of time — it’s about 3-4 hours from start to finish, especially if you are doubling or tripling the recipe, which I usually am. Most of this time is just letting it bubble away on the stove, but you will be rewarded with the most delicious aromas and of course, crispy, fatty carnitas tacos.
2 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder or country-style pork ribs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
About 4 cups water
Melt the lard in a deep, narrow pot or dutch oven. Cut the pork into 2-inch chunks and brown on all sides. Pour off and discard excess fat. Add salt and enough water to cover barely cover the meat. Set over medium heat until the water begins to bubble, then reduce heat to low and cook at a bare simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Add the orange and cook for another hour, or until the meat shreds easily.
Discard the orange (squeezing out whatever juice you can get out of it) Turn the heat to high and boil off all the water to make a thick glaze. At this stage, as the water is evaporating, stir regularly. This will help to break apart the meat into those signature shreds of fatty, flavorful carnitas. Let some of the meat crisp up to provide texture.
Serve with warm corn tortillas and your favorite salsa, or with chopped onions, cilantro, radishes and a squeeze of limes.
I knew I had truly become a baker the Christmas that I made biscochos from memory — I knew the right proportion of sugar to fat, I could see when there were
New Mexican Christmas cookies called biscochos. This recipe is at least three generations old.
enough dots of crushed anise seed in the dough, I poured in red wine in just the right amount, at the right time, and stopped adding flour when the dough “felt right.”
For years I had been calling my Aunt Socorro, a legendary baker in our family, for her recipe for this traditional New Mexican cookie, which is made most often at Christmastime or for weddings. She’d learned it from her own mother, my Grandma Andrea. I’d faithfully write it down on a note card or piece of paper, put it away, and when the next Christmas rolled around, I wouldn’t be able to find it. If nothing else, it was a good excuse to give my aunt a call. But one year, some time in my 20s, I just knew what I had to do. It had finally stuck.
When they are made just right, these sandy, cinnamony little cookies will melt on your tongue. They are terribly delicate and should be made in bite sizes because if they are too big, they will break apart. They were traditionally rolled out and cut into diamond shapes, which I can still remember my grandmother doing at the table in her tiny kitchen in Mesilla, NM. Now, pretty much everyone I know uses a cookie shooter. If you have access to free child labor, you should have them sugar the cookies. They have way more energy then you do, and if they happen to break a few, well then, you all get to eat the rejects. And the bonus is that one day, they’ll be able to make these cookies without having to call Auntie Sylvia.
This recipe makes about 30 dozen cookies. That sounds like a lot — and it is — but they are bite-sized and go pretty fast. There are some people in my family who could eat a dozen at a go. You’ll have enough for a party or to give away if you like baking your Christmas gifts.
2 pounds lard
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon anise seed, crushed in a mortar and pestle, or with a rolling pin. (You want them cracked but not pulverized into dust — they provide a little bit of texture to the cookies)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoons red wine (can substitute orange juice)
8-9 cups all purpose flour
2 cups cinnamon sugar (Add cinnamon to taste to 2 cups of sugar. I usually keep adding cinnamon until the sugar has a nice golden color)
In a large mixing bowl, put in the room temperature lard. (Yes, lard. Shortening is not an adequate substitute. I tried making them with shortening for my Jewish friend and they were not the same. If you have issues with lard, there are tons of great cookie recipes out there, make one of those.) Using one hand to hold the bowl, knead the lard until it is very soft. My aunt used to say until the lard makes a cracking sound. Add the sugar and anise. Add the egg and mix in. Then add salt and baking powder.
Begin to add in the flour a cup at a time, incorporating the flour before adding the next. When you get to 4 cups flour, add the wine or juice. (You can do everything up to this point a stand mixer, which I have done, but once you get to about 4 cups of flour, the dough gets very thick and can burn out the engine unless your mixer is high-powered. I prefer doing the whole thing by hand, anyway. It’s less trouble and I can feel the dough to make sure it’s just right.)
Slowly add the last 4 to 5 cups flour until the dough begins to pull together. The amount of flour will vary depending on the humidity. I’m in the desert, and it’s pretty darned dry, so it took a little over 8 cups. When the dough it nearly coming into a large ball, dump it out onto a floured cutting board. Pat the dough together, dusting it with more flour until it holds together. I usually poke it with my finger to see if it makes a nice indent. It should not crack, otherwise, you’ve added too much flour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
You can either roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into the traditional diamond shape by first cutting the dough into strips, then cutting it crosswise at an angle to form the diamonds. Or you can load up your cookie gun. I prefer the star disc. You don’t want a shape that has thin edges because they will break off. Every oven is different, so you’ll have to keep an eye out on the first batch. I baked the biscochos in a rimmed backing sheet in a convection oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, but the biscochos I baked on insulated cookie sheets took 16 minutes. Take them out when they are a light golden brown. I find it useful to have four baking sheets, that way there are some in the oven while I cool the others, sugar them and pump out another load of dough.
Let the cookies cool for a few minutes until they harden just a bit. In a wide, shallow bowl add sugar and cinnamon to taste. When the cookies are cool enough to handle, dip them 2 or 3 at a time in the cinnamon sugar.
I had a great interview with two of the women behind the blog Muy Bueno yesterday, Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack and her mother, Evangelina “Vangie” Soza, about their newly published cookbook. They were really warm and generous and their book is just beautiful, blending memories and simple, traditional Mexican food from the El Paso area, and newer, Latin-inspired foods.
Talking to Vangie, I told her I noticed her recipe for red chile included flour, something we’ve never used in my family. She says it thickens the chile and helps it stick to tortillas better in red enchiladas. I told her I had noticed that sometime the red chile would separate a bit, especially if it’s been frozen. She says the flour will help with that problem, too.
I’m pretty excited to try this new way of making red chile, which is wonderful at this time of year. In New Mexico, where I live now, the chile has been sitting on the bushes slowly turning from green to red and it will dry out before it’s harvested. It’s a little like sun-drying tomatoes and really develops and deepens the flavor of the chile.
Chiles strung together in ristras at the HatchChile Festival.
Here’s that recipe from the Muy Bueno Cookbook. I’ll post a link to the story when i comes out next week.
Red Chile (Chile Colorado)
8 ounces California or New Mexico red chile pods
6 cups water, divided
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
4 cloves garlic, divided
1 tablespoon salt
Remove stems, seeds, and veins from the chile pods. Place in a colander and rinse well with cool water.
Add the chiles to a large pot and add enough water so they are just covered. Bring water to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes. After 10 minutes turn the chiles over with tongs to make sure the chiles soften evenly. Drain cooked pods and allow time to cool down before blending. Discard water.
Fill blender with 3 cups of water, half of the cooled chile pods, 3 tablespoons flour, 2 cloves garlic, and half of the salt. Blend until smooth. Strain sauce through a fine sieve to remove skins and seeds; discard skins and seeds. Repeat blending and straining process with remaining water, pods, flour, garlic, and salt. If necessary, season with more salt.
This sauce can be made in advance and kept in airtight containers in the refrigerator or freezer. Red chile sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week or frozen for up to six months.
Makes 6 to 7 cups.
Mole poblano uses a multitude of toasted spices, nuts and chocolate to create a smoky, spicy complex sauce.
While Cinco de Mayo – which commemorates the Battle of Puebla in 1862, a rout of French forces by Mexican soldiers during the French occupation – is not a huge holiday in Mexico, it was always a chance for Mexican Americans here to celebrate our heritage. When I was growing up in San Jose, we had the largest parades outside of Mexico, with floats, mariachi music, folkloric dancers and charros prancing their decorated horses. Hundreds of thousands of people flooded downtown San Jose to eat, dance and party.
Even though San Jose stopped holding Cinco de Mayo parades several years ago after the crowds got out of control, I still feel the need to mark the event in some way. Making one of the signature dishes of Puebla seemed like a great idea. I had a couple of choices: chiles en nogada are a variation on chile rellenos with a walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. But this dish is most closely identified with Mexican Independence Day, Sept. 16, because it was invented to display the colors of the Mexican flag. Add to that, most of the ingredients are in season in the early fall. Ah well, that’s a post for another day.
The other famous dish from Puebla is mole poblano, and this is also considered a signature dish of Mexico. Still, the recipe I have from Diana Kennedy’s “The Cuisines of Mexico” starts with “the day before …” Was there a way to honor the complex, spicy, labor intensive and time consuming dish without spending two days to make it happen or resorting to that stuff in the jar? If you want to raise a shot of tequila or a pint of Dos Equis to the brave soldados of Puebla this weekend, I think I have you covered. This recipe for mole poblano is still going to be a labor of love, but it’s been boiled down to about two and a half hours of active cooking and still manages to preserve the complexity of flavors from toasted spices and chiles and the body from toasted and ground nuts and seeds. There is Mexican chocolate, but it adds depth rather than sweetness. I’ve also used chicken rather than the traditional turkey, since small turkeys aren’t easy to get this time of year.
(Slightly) Simplified Mole Poblano
3-4 pound whole, cut up chicken or breasts and thighs
2-3 garlic cloves
water to cover
2-3 whole peppercorns
For the chile paste*
8 chile mulatos
5 chile anchos
6 chile pasillas
1/4 cup lard or canola oil
For the spice paste
1/2-inch stick cinnamon
1/8 tsp. coriander seed, toasted
1/8 tsp. aniseed, toasted
1 tbsp. chile seeds, toasted
7 tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted, divided use
3 cloves garlic, toasted
1/4 cup lard or canola oil
2 tbsp. raisins
1/2 cup coasely chopped almonds or almond meal
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas), hulled and unsalted
1 small, stale tortilla
3 small pieces of stale french bread (or whatever you have)
1/2 cup canned tomatillos, drained
1 1/2 oz. tablet of Mexican chocolate, chopped fine
4 cups chicken broth from poached chicken
In a stock pot, place chicken pieces, carrot, onion, garlic and bay leaf with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and skim any foam from the top then lower to a simmer and cook for about an hour.
Meanwhile, start making the chile paste. Take the dried chiles and split them open either with a knife or your hands, removing the seeds and veins. (If you use your hands, make sure to wash well with soap and avoid touching your eyes.) Have ready a medium bowl. Heat lard or oil in a skillet over medium heat. Fry the chiles individually on both sides, about 5-10 seconds per side until the chiles blister and color a bit. Place the fried chiles in the bowl and cover with warm water to soak. While they are softening and reconstituting, start assembling and toasting your spices.
Have ready a spice grinder or small food processor. (If you don’t have one, you can use a mortar and pestle and put some muscle into it and use 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon instead.). Add the untoasted spices: cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon. In a dry pan or griddle, toast the coriander and aniseed and add to grinder. Toast chile seeds until nearly black and add. Toast the sesame seed until golden brown and set aside. Put 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds in spice grinder and reserve the remainder for garnish. Pulse until you have a fine blend. Toast the garlic cloves.
In the bowl of a food processor or in a blender, place the softened chiles and 1 cup of water and process until it forms a thick paste. I did this in my trusty Oster blender but it struggled a bit. This will go a lot easier in a processor. Heat a large skillet over medium heat with 1/4 cup lard or canola oil until hot but not smoking, then add the chile paste and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, in the processor or blender (don’t bother rinsing out, it’s all going to the same place), add the tomatillos, the spice blend and toasted garlic. Heat a small skillet with about 1/4 cup lard or canola oil. Fry the raisins briefly, just until they puff up. Fry the pumpkin seeds lightly but have a lid ready cause they’ll pop around. Then fry the almonds, stirring constantly until the nuts are well browned. Add all to processor. Fry the tortilla until crisp, then the bread slices. Add both to processor bowl and pulse all the ingredients until you have a smooth paste. If using a blender, you might need to use a little bit of the chicken broth to get it going.
Add this mixture to the chile paste in the skillet and cook over high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chopped chocolate and cook about 10 minutes more, stirring the thick mixture to keep it from burning or sticking. Remove the chicken from the broth and strain. Add 4 cups of broth to the mole mixture, thinning it to the consistency of batter. Cook until the oil rises to the surface around the edges of the pan. Add the chicken pieces and allow them to absorb the flavor of the sauce, at least 20 minutes. (I started a pan of Spanish rice at this stage, because I knew when it was finished, the mole would be ready.)
This version of mole poblano is still special occasion food, the 2-1/2 hour cooking time makes it more of a weekend project, but it goes a lot easier with a second pair of hands in the kitchen, and a glass of refreshing Mexican beer and some good company. Happy Cinco de Mayo.
*Note: It might be tough to find all these chile varieties in your grocery store, or even your Latin market. And often, anchos are mislabeled pasillas in the U.S. If you can’t find them all, just use what’s available. I didn’t find chile mulato but did find chile negro. And I substituted guajillo for the pasilla.
Bonus: You’ll have plenty of sauce left over and it freezes well. So all your hard work will make your life easier and more delicious another day. And if you don’t want more mole, it can be made into enchiladas. You’ll also have some leftover chicken stock, yippie!