Archive for the ‘Mexico’Category

Cradle of Mexican cuisine, Oaxaca relishes mole negro

Onion seller at Oaxaca market
No one escapes untouched by Oaxaca. This lyrical, magical city has been a powerful cultural and trade center for millennia. It is also arguably the cradle of Mexican cuisine. You can always eat well in Veracruz, Mexico City, and Puebla. But in Oaxaca, you feast. Every dish is a taste revelation.

Tomatoes and chile peppers were domesticated in northern Oaxaca around 4500 BC—presumably to spice up all those meals based on beans and corn, which the ancient Oaxacans had domesticated 3,000 years earlier. And Oaxaca continued to expand its larder.

ruins of Monte Alban outside OaxacaBy the time the high culture of Monte Alban (right) arose around 500 BC, the Oaxaca Valley was a crossroads of trade between South and North America. Foodstuffs poured in from as far north as Mexico’s Central Valley and from as far south as the Andes. A millennium later–nearly a thousand years before the rise of either the Aztecs or the Incas–the Zapotec people of Oaxaca were processing peanuts and cacao. They had all the ingredients to make mole, the chile-nut-spice sauce that distinguishes the Oaxacan mother cuisine.

Oaxaca cathedralThe Spanish also influenced the complex cuisine of Oaxaca. Monte Alban had been abandoned for at least seven centuries when Hernán Cortes took the Oaxaca Valley by force in 1521. He soon built a city where he would live out his life as the self-styled Marquéz de Valle de Oaxaca. Despite their cathedral (above), the Spaniards never fully succeeded in conquering the native Zapotec and Mixtec cultures of the surrounding countryside. As a result, Oaxaca is really native Mexico.

But it’s native Mexico with sesame seeds, saffron, pigs, cows, and chickens—thanks to the Spaniards.

Timeless Oaxaca comes to the market


selling tomatoes and fruits at Oaxaca market The ancient face of Oaxaca persists in the Mercado de Benito Juarez, the fresh food market named for the local son who was president of Mexico when Lincoln was president of the U.S. The market occupies two entire city blocks south of the zócalo. (One block farther south is the 20 de Noviembre market, which has amazing food stalls, including a section devoted to grilled meat.)

People start arriving from the countryside before dawn. Some come by truck, some by pack animal, and some on foot. They bring the food they have grown and lay it out for all to see. One seller might have big bunches of onions and herbs, like the woman at the top of this post. Others might display tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers and little limes. Another vendor might lay out rows of delicate squash blossoms, fleshy and yellow. It’s hard to speak with anyone, since most of the country people have Zapotec or Mixtec as their first language. But the beaming pride in their wares really needs no translation.

apple seller in OaxacaA few might even walk in with baskets on their heads, like the woman at right, who was selling the apples she had picked from her trees. To an American or a European foodie, the market looks like a cornucopia of plenty. The Oaxaca Valley is a fruitful land.

The corner of the market where dried chiles, cacao, and nuts are sold also has several mills. Shoppers who know what they are doing will bring a mixture of chiles, cacao, nuts, and spices to be milled into a paste. You can also buy pre-ground pastes to serve as the basis for making mole. In most cases, you simply dilute the paste with some meat broth and simmer long enough to smooth out the raw flavors. Mexican chocolate available in the U.S. replicates the chocolate of the market. It consists of ground cacao nibs, sugar, ground nuts, cinnamon, and often some other spices.

Most people prefer to make their moles from scratch. We’ve written previously about mole amarillo, which is traditional for the Day of the Dead. But one of the deepest flavored moles of all is mole negro, or black mole. There are many recipes for the dish, including some that deliberately burn the chile seeds and then steep them in water for some of the liquid. Traditionally, the dish is made with chilhuacles negros, a black chile grown in the Oaxaca region but not widely exported. Even cooks in other parts of Mexico use a combination of guajillo and mulato chiles to get a similar flavor.

Like many moles, the sauce is fried because water boils at 200° F in Oaxaca due to the altitude. The sauce needs to get up to about 240° F to cook through. Note that our recipe below calls for lard, which is traditional. Peanut or corn oil will work, but the flavor is less authentic. Bacon drippings are a better substitute.

MOLE NEGRO OF OAXACA


Oaxaca style mole negro with pumpkin risottoThis mole is often eaten plain over tortillas that have been dipped in the sauce and then rolled. A sprinkling of queso fresco or crumbled feta complements the flavors.

Ingredients

3 ounces dried mulato chiles (about 5), stems and tops removed
3 ounces dried guajillo chiles (about 8), stems and tops removed
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/3 cup sesame seeds
6 whole cloves
3-inch stick of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole anise seeds
1/2 cup lard
1/2 cup whole, unblanched almonds
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup coarsely chopped white onion
6 cloves garlic
6-ounce can tomato paste
4 teaspoons salt or bouillon powder
6 ounces Mexican chocolate (two tablets Ibarra or La Abuelita), grated
up to 2 cups chicken stock

Directions

Toast chiles in hot frying pan or griddle until softened. Remove seeds, stems, and at least some of the veins. (The veins and seeds contain most of the heat.) Place in medium bowl with boiling water and soak one hour.

Toast sesame seeds in dry skillet over medium heat until golden—about two minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside to cool. Combine cloves, cinnamon, coriander, and anise seeds in skillet. Toast until fragrant (20-30 seconds) and remove to cool.

Heat lard in large cast-iron frying pan over medium heat. Add almonds and cook and stir until brown. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add raisins to pan and cook and stir until they puff up—about 30 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon.

Process raisins in blender until finely ground. Coarsely chop almonds and add to blender and process until finely ground. Add raw onion and raw garlic and process until finely ground.

Grind sesame seeds in spice grinder. Add to blender. Grind clove and spice blend in spice grinder and add to blender.

Add chiles, about a cup of soaking water, tomato paste, and salt to blender. Process until smooth.

Reheat lard in deep, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Add mole mixture. Stir to cook through and sweeten the raw flavor of onion and garlic. Add chocolate to melt. Stir in chicken stock to reach desired consistency. Cover pan and place in 325° oven for one hour. Remove, stir sauce, and place back in oven for an additional hour. This allows thorough cooking without burning the mole onto the bottom of the pan.

Roll soft corn tortillas in mole and serve with sprinkling of crumbled queso fresco or feta cheese. Pumpkin risotto makes a nice side dish. If drinking wine, choose an assertive and somewhat acidic white, like a young Chilean sauvignon blanc.

03

02 2017

Local color lights up Toronto neighborhoods

Kensington Market street scene in Toronto
Toronto’s playful side is literally written on its walls. The city is full of murals created with a high degree of artistry and a witty sense of humor. The one above with the car-turned-planter in the foreground embodies the spirit of the Kensington Market neighborhood. Just west of Chinatown, most of its shops and eateries are found along Augusta Avenue and adjacent Nassau Street, Baldwin Street, and Kensington Avenue.

The eastern boundary stretches to Spadina Avenue in Chinatown, making a continuous colorful neighborhood of eateries and shops. Once the center of hippie culture in Canada, Kensington Market was where many young American men moved to avoid the military draft during the Vietnam war. The area retains its psychedelic patchouli vibe in the street art and even the graffiti.

burrito stand in Toronto Kensington Market The Kensington Market eateries also lean toward the inventive—be they Hungarian-Thai, Remixed Filipino, or Jamaican-Italian. The preponderance of small restaurants, however, have a Latin flair. NAFTA has opened the borders to Mexican immigrants, and they seem to arrive hungry for such Mexican street food standards as churros, tacos, and chorizo. The Latin presence makes Kensington Market a great area for a quick bite.

But one of the city’s best murals—and perhaps the best Mexican food—is at El Catrin Destilería (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, www.elcatrin.ca). We stopped for a meal after touring the Distillery District shopping, dining, and entertainment area with Will Ennis of Go Tours (www.gotourscanada.com).

Exploring whisky village


Main square of Distillery District in Toronto “This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city,” Will told us. Gooderham & Worts was founded as a grain processor in 1831 and expanded into making whisky in 1837. About half of the roughly 80,000 imperial gallons produced each year was exported, by the way. The rest stayed in the city of 10,000 residents. The story goes that workers’ wages were actually based on levels of drunkenness that ranged from “morning drunk” (or hung over) to “drunk as a pig.”

The brick distillery as it now stands was built in 1859. By 1862, it was producing a quarter of the distilled spirits in all of Canada. By the end of the 19th century, it was among the largest distilleries in the world. Prohibition in Ontario (1916-1927) put a crimp in the business. (The firm adjusted by canning denatured alcohol and antifreeze during World War I.) Whisky production ceased in 1990 and developers transformed the red brick industrial buildings into a shopping and nightlife district. It is crazy popular among wedding photographers, who love the atmospherics.

One good pour deserves another


Pouring sake at Ontario Spring Water Sake Two small establishments in the development carry on the tradition of making alcoholic beverages. Ontario Spring Water Sake Company (51 Gristmill Lane, 416-365-7253, www.ontariosake.com) brews sake in the “pure rice” style. The brewers use only cooked milled rice, water, yeast, and koji. (Koji is rice inoculated with the aspergillus oryzae mold, which imparts a distinct flavor.) You can watch the process through a large window. Better yet, for $10 you can enjoy a tasting flight of three styles.

In addition, Mill Street Brewpub (21 Tank House Lane, 416-681-0338, millstreetbrewery.com) opened in 2002. It was Canada’s first brewer of certified organic beer. The storefront brews small batch seasonal beers on site. The flagship beer is a Pilsener with a nice bit of hops. If it’s available when you visit, try the West Coast Style IPA. Made with 50 percent malted wheat and a nice dose of Cascade hops, it gives a less bitter impression than most IPAs. The nose has strong, pleasing mango notes. Mill Street also makes beer schnapps, a liqueur triple-distilled from beer and redolent of malt and hops. Mill Street is the only maker in Canada and the schnapps is only sold on site. “It lights a bit of a fire in your stomach,” a server told us as he poured small tastes.

A taste of Mexico


Mural in El Catrin in Toronto Distillery District
After that snort, we were ready for El Catrin Destileria (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, elcatrin.ca). This cavernous space with 22-foot ceilings opened in 2013. The tequilas and the food are authentically Mexican. Street artist Oscar Flores painted the two-story mural that dominates one wall. (The other consists of cubbyholes filled with tequilas.) Flores went wild with bright colors, decorative skulls, coyotes, sunflower, eagles, and armadillos.

Chef Olivier Le Calvez hails from Mexico City. His father is French, his mother Mexican. He spent his teens living in France and did his culinary studies there. As a result, he prepares Mexican food—even street food—with French technique.

Cuisine in the sun


Making guacamole at El Catrin During warm weather, diners and drinkers flock to the tables in the 5,000 square-foot outdoor patio at El Catrin. With a bright October sun shining, we did the same. A server brought all the ingredients for guacamole to the table and mashed it in a mortar as we watched. Several tortilla chip scoops later, we moved on to an excellent tortilla soup. Le Calvez’s version is rich with ripe tomatoes and pureed to make it as thick as a gazpacho. The tacos al pastor were delicious—filled with smoky pork, tiny blocks of sweet pineapple, and chopped red onion.

Esquítes at El Catrin We especially enjoyed the shot glasses full of roasted corn. Called esquítes, they are a table adaptation of Mexican street corn. Le Calvez roasts the corn whole in the husks over charcoal. It steams the kernels and imparts a smoky flavor. Then he cuts the kernels off the cob and sautées them with a little butter and chopped epazote. He mixes in a little chipotle mayonnaise, some crumbled cortijo cheese, and a squeeze of lime.

distillery-chef Le Calvez sees himself as something of an ambassador, introducing authentic Mexican food to Canadians. He makes recipes “that I enjoyed when I was young,” he says. As with the esquítes, he often brings street food to the table. He hopes Torontonians will adopt the Mexican attitude about a meal. “We love to sit down at the table and enjoy the food,” says Le Calvez. “That’s very important to us in Mexico. A meal lasts up to two hours.”

27

10 2016

What to eat at the airport: Chicago O’Hare

Tortas Frontera at Terminal 3 in ORD
Maybe it’s the feel-good endorphins released when we eat chile peppers, or perhaps it’s just the simple combinations of strong flavors, but when we’re truly stuck at the airport, nothing soothes our frazzled nerves better than good Mexican food. When American canceled our flight from Dallas to Albuquerque, we had time to discover the healing power of the chicken and green chile tamales at Pappasito’s Cantina at DFW. (See this post for details.)

Yesterday, when American summarily canceled our flight from Chicago O’Hare to Lexington, Kentucky, we headed directly to Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless. We’ve been fans of his food for years, and find that the recipes in his cookbooks are among some of the best for reproducing authentic Mexican dishes at home. It’s nice to find a friendly face, so to speak, at the airport.

Tortas Frontera, as you might expect from the name, is basically a sandwich joint. But what sandwiches! We settled in at the food court with a spicy albondigas torta (a meatball sandwich), a smoked pork mollette (an open-faced sandwich), and a bowl of creamy corn and poblano chowder that was practically the definition of comfort food.

And we knew what we were getting, as Bayless lists the ingredients and often the local farms where he gets them. The food may be Mexican by culture, but it is, as his souvenir shirts say, “Hecho en Chicago.” The meatballs incorporated pork and bacon from Gunthorp Farm in nearby LaGrange, Indiana, and they were served with Bayless’s classic roasted tomato sauce and a little melted soft Cotija cheese. The mollette was a harmonious stack of sliced pork loin, melted Jack cheese, chipotle-fig spread, Cotija cheese and a little cilantro on half a bun. And that sublime chowder contained sweet corn, roasted green chiles, caramelized onion, and Cotija cheese. When we get home, we’re going to check his cookbooks for the recipes.

We can recommend them all, with the caveat that when American is canceling flights willy-nilly, the lines get long and the service a little slow. But we could wait. We weren’t going anywhere for 24 hours.

Branches of the restaurant are located in Terminal 1 at B11, Terminal 3 at K4, and Terminal 5 at M12.

23

06 2015

Sweet corn tamales with black truffle

Australian truffle
During last July’s research trip to Australia, I babied a single prize black truffle all the way home. I kept it cool inside a rigid plastic box wrapped with absorbent paper that I changed every 12 hours so it wouldn’t get too moist. When asked at Border Control if I had any fresh food, I said, “yes, a black truffle.” The agent said, “OK,” and waved me through.

shaving a truffle The real question was what to make with this spectacular faceted lump (see above) that was an 80-gram culinary gem? How could I stretch it as far as possible without skimping on the flavor in each dish? After an indulgent meal of black truffle sliced over buttered pasta (see last post), I decided to set aside the truffle shaver in favor of a microplane grater that could produce gossamer ribbons of truffle. As I learned in Australia, maximizing the surface area pumps up the flavor.

Many top North American chefs rave about truffles with sweet fresh corn—one of our first tastes of summer at the market. But I had never seen truffles with sweet corn tamales. It seemed logical enough. After all, the Mexicans have been eating tamales filled with huitlacoche (an inky corn fungus) for centuries. As it turns out, truffle and corn tamales are a match made in culinary heaven.

This version is adapted from Mark Miller’s original “green corn tamales” that he used to serve at Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe. I’ve changed the dough a little and filled the tamales with soft goat cheese blended with black truffle. We serve them without a sauce, but with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche on the side.

Sweet corn tamales with truffle

SWEET CORN TAMALES WITH BLACK TRUFFLE


With apologies to Mark Miller and millions of Mexican chefs, I abandon the colorful corn husks or banana leaves for more practical aluminum foil to wrap the tamales for steaming.

For dough

3 large ears fresh corn, shucked
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter (one half stick) cut into pea-sized pieces
2 cups masa harina
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup warm water

Cut kernels from cobs and transfer to a large bowl. Blend 1-1/2 cups of the kernels, the sugar, and the butter until it forms a chunky purée. Return to bowl with remaining kernels and add masa harina, salt, baking powder, chopped parsley, and water. Mix by hand until a soft dough forms, adding a little extra water if the dough is crumbly.

For filling
190 grams soft goat cheese
10 grams of finely shaved truffle ribbons

Mix truffle ribbons into cheese.

Divide dough into eight equal pieces. Flatten each and put one-eighth of cheese in middle. Fold over from two sides to seal. Wrap in aluminum foil and seal tightly. Repeat until you have eight tamales.

Steam for 50 minutes. Unwrap and serve with crème fraiche or sour cream.

Yucatan tortilla soup goes bright with limes

tortilla soup with lime We thought we might be done adding versions of tortilla soup to our repertoire after our encounter with Loteria Grill at LAX, but then Cancun’s tourism office sent us a batch of recipes that included a classic sopa de lima, or “lime soup” and we headed back into the kitchen to perfect our own version of this chicken tortilla soup with a heavy dose of vegetables and tart lime juice. It’s definitely Mexican comfort food, but with a Yucatecan accent. We tweaked the traditional recipe to trim some of the fat and emphasize the fresh flavors.

SOPA DE LIMA YUCATECA
Serves 6-8

In the traditional preparation of this dish, the tortilla strips are fried in vegetable oil until brown. We prefer the cleaner corn flavor you get by toasting them in the oven, which also saves a lot of calories. The recipe calls for Mexican oregano (also known as marjoram), but Italian oregano can be substituted for a more herbaceous flavor.

Ingredients

8 corn tortillas
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 celery rib, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 large serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
8 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 green onions, finely chopped
3 limes, juiced (about 1/3 cup)
1 large avocado, peeled, pitted and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Directions

1. Set oven to 375°F. Cut the tortillas into 1/4-inch strips. Place on narrow mesh cooling racks and set racks in middle of preheated oven. Bake 6-8 minutes or until golden brown. Remove immediately and turn out on counter to cool. Depending on oven and rack size, you may have to toast chips in batches. Set toasted chips aside.

2. Place oil in a large saucepan and add the chopped onion, celery, carrot, and serrano pepper. Sprinkle with about a teaspoon of salt. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaf and Mexican oregano and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the tomato and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring, until the tomato is softened and has released its liquid and the mixture is nearly dry (4 to 5 minutes).

3. Add the chicken stock and chicken breasts and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook until the chicken is just cooked through (12-15 minutes). Remove chicken from the soup and set aside until cool enough to handle. Allow soup to continue simmering.

4. When the chicken has cooled a bit, shred into bite-size pieces and return to the pot along with the green onions and lime juice. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the chicken is heated through and the soup is piping hot. Season the soup to taste with salt and ladle the soup into wide soup bowls, with a handful of tortilla strips added to each bowl. Garnish with the avocado and cilantro and serve immediately.

11

11 2014

What to Eat at the Airport: More LAX

LAX Terminal 5 Operating at the corner of Third and Fairfax since 1934, the Original Farmers Market is a Los Angeles landmark that celebrates great California fruits and vegetables as well as good cooking from around the world. Now a little piece of this city treasure has been transplanted to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Opened in June, Farmers Market at Terminal 5 includes such market stalwarts as Bennett’s Ice Cream (look for the chocolate-covered frozen banana), Magee’s House of Nuts (perfect for munching on the plane), and the Dog Bakery (in case you need a treat for Fido waiting at home).

Loteria! at LAX Two spots are stand-outs for a satisfying meal before a flight. At Monsieur Marcel Pain Vin et Fromage (www.mrmarcel.com), you can select some great cheese and bread for a quick snack or order a bowl of French onion soup or a wedge of quiche Lorraine. Much more in tune with southern California’s Mexican heritage, Lotería! Grill (loteriagrill.com) serves lightened versions of regional Mexican cuisine. The green tomatillo enchiladas and shredded beef tacos are among the most popular with airport diners. But for my money, nothing beats a bowl of chef Jimmy Shaw’s purée of tortilla soup. The creamy, slightly spicy soup is topped with corn tortilla strips, sliced avocado, queso fresco, and toasted ancho chile. It’s the ultimate comfort food before a long flight back to the East Coast.

I didn’t want to wait until my next trip to Los Angeles to enjoy another bowl, so I developed this recipe to try to approximate the version served at Lotería! It’s inspired by the chicken tortilla soup I’ve been making for years from a Consumer Reports cookbook—crossed with Dean Fearing’s famed puréed tortilla soup that he reveals in his Texas Food Bible that came out last April. I have lightened up the recipe by baking the tortilla strips rather than frying them.

By the way, if you’re going to be in Terminal 7 at LAX, see this post on where to eat.

tortilla soup at Loteria!
PURÉED TORTILLA SOUP

Serves 6

Ingredients

12 corn tortillas (6-inch), halved and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
1 tablespoon light, neutral-flavored oil (sunflower, peanut, or canola)
2 medium onions, puréed in the blender or a food processor
6 whole large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon ground ancho chile
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
6 cups chicken stock
juice of a small lime
8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

For garnish:
fresh avocado, peeled and thinly sliced
queso fresco, crumbled (cow’s milk feta cheese makes a fine substitute)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange tortilla strips in single layer on cooling racks and place in oven to bake until lightly browned and crisp (about 5 minutes). Reserve.

In large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic cloves and cook until onion turns a golden brown. Stir in chile, cumin, oregano, and bay leaf. Add chicken stock, lime, tomato sauce, and sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook 20 minutes.

Taste soup and add salt and/or pepper, if needed. Add about one-third of toasted tortilla strips and cook at a simmer for 10 minutes. Remove bay leaf and purée soup in batches in a blender or by using an immersion blender. It should be the texture of light cream. If it is too thin, add more tortilla strips, cook, and purée again. If too thick, add a little chicken stock.

To serve, ladle into bowls and top with queso fresco, chopped avocado, and tortilla chips.

Traditional Norteño barbacoa at Casa Hernán

JohnnyGrill
As we suggested in the La Gloria post that started this San Antonio series back in June, chef Johnny Hernandez has been helping San Antonio reclaim the Mexican side of its culinary heritage. Easy-going venues like La Gloria and The Frutería focus on the simplest of Mexican food — street food, really — but at his special events venue Casa Hernán, Johnny gets into some of the more complex traditions.

Brunch at  Casa Hernán

Brunch at Casa Hernán

Hernandez does a grand Sunday brunch about once a month at Casa Hernán, sometimes featuring barbacoa in the South Texas/northern Mexican tradition. In some parts of interior Mexico, cooks will roast an entire animal in a pit, usually a lamb. In northern Mexico, barbacoa usually signifies a pit-roasted cow’s head (and nothing more). Hernandez had an outdoor kitchen built to order in his back yard. Not only does the tiled work area include a large grill with the machinery for splaying lambs and kids over the heat, it also includes round holes into which Hernandez can use a chain and pulley system to lower chain baskets into the coals of an underground fire pit. The holes are sized to accommodate baskets large enough to contain an entire cow’s head.

CasaHernancowhead To prepare the head for cooking, Hernandez sets it on banana leaves, seasons it liberally with salt, pepper, epazote, onion, thyme, oregano, and avocado leaves, then wraps the whole concoction in the banana leaves. He then lowers it in a chain-link basket into the fire. It takes about 12 hours to cook a cow’s head before he hoists it up with a chain and pulley and pulls the meat off the bones. Now that’s barbacoa!

The beef cheeks provide the juiciest, tastiest meat and form the centerpiece of the brunch buffet, displayed next to the cooked head. For the rest of the brunch, Hernandez will likely grill a few entire lambs, cook up huge piles of sausages directly over hardwood coals, and make a big selection of vegetable dishes and (of course) fresh tortillas. Dessert always depends on the fresh fruit of the season.

Given the necessary gear to make this dish correctly, it’s one we won’t be trying at home.

18

08 2014

What to eat at the San Antonio airport (SAT)

La Gloria The 8 million people a year who fly through San Antonio’s airport (SAT) used to be forced to fall back on fast food chains for something to eat. But last year local chef Johnny Hernandez came to their rescue by opening La Gloria in July and The Fruteria in December. Waitress Ana Mendez at La Gloria explains the reaction of most travelers: “They come in here and think they’re going to get Tex-Mex,” she says. It’s a natural expectation, given that San Antonio might well be the capital of Tex-Mex cuisine. “They’re surprised that it’s real Mexican food. People really like it.”

wide mural2 The mural inside La Gloria might say it best: No hace falta morir para llegar a la gloria. That translates loosely as “You don’t have to die to go to heaven.”

Both La Gloria and La Fruteria open early in the morning, making either a perfect place to start the day in the airport. The most popular breakfast plate at La Gloria is the Mexican brunch classic, chilaquiles verdes. A dish originally designed to use leftovers, it’s a casserole of tortillas simmered in a tomatillo-green chile sauce. At La Gloria, the chilaquiles come with shredded chicken, queso fresco, and black beans.

Mural diner La Fruteria’s meal offerings are more limited, emphasizing fresh fruit and vegetable juices along with sandwiches (tortas), tostadas, and salads. But for later in the day, both spots have a great selection of tequilas, including both tequila and mezcal that Hernandez has made for him in Mexico. They go into inventive drinks like the mango melon margarita or the piña mezcal margarita.

We’re heard complaints about slow service at La Gloria, but only during really busy travel times, such as holiday periods. Our experience was altogether different — the food almost came too quickly, given the time we had left to kill. But the flavors were the best part: Real Mexican dishes with authentic flavors, including outstanding fresh tortillas.

The mural motto has it just about right.

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01

06 2014

Mole amarillo for turkey enchiladas

Mole amarillo2Mole amarillo is a classic sauce for Day of the Dead meals in Oaxaca. When we first started visited the Oaxaca region in the 1980s, we already knew the spicy, chocolate-y mole poblano. But of the seven classic moles, the one that really blew us away was the complex, subtle, and tangibly acidic mole amarillo (yellow mole). It was the first taste of travel that we labored to bring home. In those days, that meant growing our own tomatillos and yellow chile peppers and experimenting a lot to get the flavors right. It really does represent the culmination of our garden, which may be why we introduced mole amarillo with enchiladas into our post-Thanksgiving rotation many years ago. It’s a perfect way to use to leftover turkey. We often serve it accompanied by saffron rice mixed with sautéed scallions, corn, and coarsely grated carrot from the excellent New Southwestern Cooking by Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsinger.

The concentrated form of the sauce can be made far ahead, preserved in canning jars, and be ready to eat in 20 minutes. Just follow the directions through Step 3, ladle into sterilized canning jars, and process for 20 minutes at 10-15 lb. pressure. Because it’s a high-acid food, it will keep safely in canning jars for up to two years. Or so we think. We’ve never been able to hold onto it that long.

MOLE AMARILLO (YELLOW MOLE)

Traditional variations of this autumn Oaxacan sauce, often served on the Day of the Dead, substitute dried cascabel peppers for the yellow peppers and marigold petals or safflower stamens for the saffron. Epazote is a common weed all over North America, often found in vacant lots. When crushed, its leaves smell a bit like kerosene.

Ingredients

8 fresh yellow chiles (Fresno, Santa Fe Grande, etc.), roasted, peeled, deveined and chopped
1 raw onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 lb. tomatillos, husked, parboiled and drained
1 roasted medium onion
1 roasted head of garlic
1 toasted cinnamon stick
6 toasted whole cloves
2 medium tomatoes, roasted and peeled
1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh
8 epazote leaves, minced
1/2 cup cooking oil
2 tablespoons toasted peanut or sesame oil
1 slice raw onion
generous pinch of saffron
4 cups strong chicken broth
1/2 cup tortilla dough (masa)

Directions

1. Sauté chiles, raw onion and garlic until soft. Purée and set aside.

2. Purée tomatillos, roasted onion and garlic, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, epazote and tomatoes.

3. Heat oils in heavy skillet. Add onion slice and brown. Stir in tomatillo mixture and cook about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until mole renders out the fat. Stir in chile mixture and simmer about 1 hour or until mixture thickens. Fat on top may be skimmed off.

4. Crumble and dissolve saffron in warm chicken broth. Dissolve tortilla dough in broth.

5. Add to the mole and simmer about 20 minutes until texture of custard, stirring often.

Traditionally served over chicken pieces, enchiladas or as dipping sauce for small tamales.

29

11 2013