Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mexican Cinco de Mayo Green Dinner

All of the Earth Day celebrations last past week must have had me thinking green when it came to making a Cinco de Mayo dinner. Cinco de Mayo is May 5, of course. Did you think it was the Mexican Independence Day? Many people do, but it is not!

Let me first educate you all about Cinco de Mayo in a very brief history lesson:

Did you know that for a time, Mexico was ruled by a Hapsburg prince?

In 1862 Emperor Maximillian and his wife, Carlota, were sent to rule Mexico by Napoleon III. Why, you ask? After Mexico declared its independence from Spain in September of 1810, it borrowed money from France. But when France wanted the money back, Mexico was unable to pay off the debt. So France sent troops to collect or take over.

The French had the best army in the world and it was well-equipped. When they arrived at Puebla (the capital of the state of Puebla), there was a battle in which the poor Mexican farmers made sport of the French.

Sadly, in the end, the French won the war and took over Mexico for some years. But the battle of Puebla on May 5 1862, is remembered as a day of great Mexican pride. It is celebrated not only in Puebla, but through out Mexico, and the places where populations of Mexicans live in the US.

So let's celebrate the earth and Mexican heritage with a green Mexican dinner!

It all started out when I was at the grocery store a few days ago and found myself in the produce section where the green Mexican ingredients were begging me to buy them! I bought large tomatillos, beautiful poblano chiles (peppers), and cilantro. With ingredients in hand, I headed home to find some recipes.

Being a Spanish teacher who studied in Mexico, I have a number of good Mexican Cookbooks. I turned to
The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz. I am a huge fan of this book, which was published way back when I was just one year old. The recipes seem very traditional to me, and not too gourmet. They promote authentic Mexican Cuisine.

The book magically opened to Arroz Verde on page 64. Well, maybe it opened to page 64 because it is the page that I most often visit.

I looked at her recipe for Pipián Verde, but I had fresh tomatillos, and her recipes called for canned. I was most interested in making a Pipián Verde (a green chicken fricassee) and I really wasn’t sure of the conversion rate, so I turned to the Internet for a recipe.

I did an advanced search on Epicurious.com for the tomatillos with the main ingredient of chicken. A recipe for Chicken in Green Pumpkin-Seed Sauce came up.
I made the chicken almost immediately and put in in the fridge, deciding to make the sauce the next day. Before going to bed later that evening, I shut down my computer.

Remembering that what I saw was a recipe for Pipián Verde, when I went to Epicurious the next day, I changed my search words to pipian verde. I clicked on the link that appeared, the only recipe they had with those words in the title.

It only took a moment to realize that this recipe was different, but it looked much better than the other one. Therefore, I would use the chicken I made with the first recipe, and the sauce of this new recipe.

The result was an absolutely delicious meal that I felt I had to share. So I made a second batch of it. Then on Monday, I shared this wonderful green meal with my hard-working Spanish 3 students (there are only 13 of them) who have probably never tried food like this in their lives.

One can't expect that a bunch of teenagers are going to fall in love with traditional Mexican cooking, but I think they appreciated it, and I'm sure that a number of them really enjoyed it. They approached the new flavors and ingredients with an open mind and that warmed my heart.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Pollo en Pipián Verde

Okay, I'll be the first to admit that this is not the most attractive chicken dish, but let me be the first to tell you that this stuff is awesome! It has deep flavors that present themselves in layers. And it finishes with just a little bit of heat. If I were a judge on the Iron Chef, I'd say it was like a little orchestra in my mouth! But in my own language, I'll say that it has so much flavor, and it is pure goodness on your taste buds. In fact, when I tasted it, I liked it so much that I made another batch so I could share it.

I don't make real, traditional Mexican food very often. It tends to be a bit on the labor-intensive side. But, this dish really wasn't so bad. Heck, it was almost a breeze the 2nd time I made it! Honest! And there's no reason that you can't make this over the span of two days. You can make the chicken one day, and the sauce the next day.

And if you are preparing this as your first Mexican dish, you could even do the 3-day thing.
  • Day 1: Roast and peel the poblano peppers, toast the pumpkin seeds and put them through a food processor, make the chicken.

  • Day 2: Make the tomatillo sauce (pictured in the mustard-colored bowl

  • Day 3: finish the sauce and reheat the chicken in it.
The first batch I made used the two-day approach.

But the 2nd time I made it, I sprinted through the steps and did the whole thing at once. That was cool. Being a multi-tasker (I have a serious case of ADD), I did several steps at the same time and totally messed up my kitchen. It was an intense, fun experience.

Pollo En Pipián Verde
Adapted from both Gourmet Magazine and Bon Appetit

For the chicken:

5 cups water
6 chicken thighs with skin and bones
1/4 large white onion
3 garlic cloves, halved
3 large fresh cilantro sprigs
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 whole clove
freshly ground pepper

Put all the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil on a moderate flame. Once it reaches the boiling point, turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes. When it is done, remove the chicken pieces with some tongs and strain the stock. Throw away the strained matter. If you have time, refrigerate the chicken stock and spoon off the fat from the surface later.

For The Sauce:

1 1/2 cups raw green pumpkin seeds (about 7 ounces)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 allspice berries (I used ¼ teaspoon powder instead)
3 cloves
6 black peppercorns
1 pound fresh tomatillos (or a 28-ounce can tomatillos, if you must)
6 fresh serrano chilies
1/2 large white onion
4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup packed coarsely chopped fresh coriander
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup lard or vegetable oil (I used oil)
3 cups stock from cooking chicken
1 to 1 1/2 fresh poblano chile

Roast the poblano chile. Let it cool while you toast the pumpkin seeds.

Heat a large heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot and toast pumpkin seeds, stirring constantly, until they have expanded and begin to pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer seeds to a plate to cool. In skillet heat sesame and cumin seeds, allspice, cloves, and peppercorns, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute, and transfer to plate. When seeds and spices are cool, in an electric spice/coffee grinder grind mixture in batches to a powder (I did 2 batches).

If the chile is cool enough after having roasted, you could peel it now and discard the seeds and stem.

If using fresh tomatillos, discard husks and rinse with warm water to remove stickiness. Stem serrano chilies. In a saucepan simmer fresh tomatillos and serranos in salted water to cover 10 minutes. If you look closely at the picture below, I flipped some of the tomatillos over. The part that was submerged got less green.

If using canned tomatillos, drain them and leave serranos uncooked.

I went the extra mile at this point and sauteed my onions. I didn't have to. The recipe didn't call for it. It said to just use them chopped and raw. But I like to think of the sauteing as adding depth of flavor. I could be completely full of crap, but that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Transfer tomatillos, prepared poblano chiles, and serranos (use a slotted spoon if simmered) to a blender and purée with onion, garlic, 1/4 cup coriander, and salt until completely smooth.

Here is the tomatillo sauce after being poured from the blender:

You could take a break here and put this sauce away till the next day if you wanted. Or you could continue.

In a 5-quart heavy kettle simmer tomatillo purée in lard or oil, stirring frequently, 10 minutes. The sauce will thicken. You can see in the picture below that when I ran the spatula through the middle, the sea of sauce parted and stayed parted.

Add 2 1/2 cups stock and stir in powdered pumpkin-seed mixture. Simmer sauce, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes, or until slightly thickened.

Stir the chicken into sauce and heat on top of stove or in a 350° F. oven until chicken is heated through.

You could serve this chicken with white rice, Arroz Verde, or just shred it up inside a corn tortilla as a taco. If you like tacos, you might want to see my post on preparing them.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Arroz Verde

Arroz Verde (Green Rice) Is part of my Earth Week / Cinco de Mayo Mexican Dinner (to be posted later). This rice dish is deep in flavor and has a little heat. The rice is more sticky, similar to the rice in paella. I enjoyed taking the scrapings off the bottom of the pan and eating them while I plated my rice. That's might just be the best part of the rice! Yum! But I wanted to leave it out of my picture, as it doesn't look too pretty.

If you make this rice and use poblano chiles, I recommend my post on How To Roast and Peel Poblano Peppers.

Arroz Verde
Adapted from The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking

4 poblano chiles
2 cups rice
a good handful of fresh cilantro
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 cups stock
1/4 cup olive or salad oil
salt and pepper to taste

Cover the rice with hot water and allow it to stand for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water until the water runs clear. Drain again and dry thoroughly.

Place the chiles in the electric blender with the cilantro, onion, garlic, and a little stock. Blend until smooth.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and saute the rice until golden. Add the puree and cook for a few minutes longer.

Add the remaining stock and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cover and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and cook until the rice is tender and all the liquid is absorbed.

Serves 6

Thursday, April 24, 2008

How To Roast and Peel Poblano Peppers

Poblano peppers are commonly used in Mexican cooking. This is what mine looked like before I roasted them:

And they are readily available. For instance, I live in the sticks (the boonies). I complain all the time about living in the middle of nowhere, but I find these at a grocery store nearby. Chances are you can find them too. Size wise, they are about the length of a bell pepper, but they are darker and more triangular.

These chiles are most widely known to be the pepper used in the dish Chiles Rellenos (stuffed chiles). They are also used in rice dishes and casseroles such as my Pollo en Pipián Verde. They are somewhat hot, but not like a jalapeño or serrano chile.

I don't think I've ever used them in a recipe that didn't call for roasting and peeling them. The roasting deepens the flavor and makes removing the peel super-easy. Here's how to do it.

When roasting their poblanos, some people use their oven or even just the flame of their stove top. I think the toaster oven is easiest. I just put them in there on the highest setting. It took about 8-10 minutes per side today to roast a few poblanos in my toaster oven.

You'll know when a side is ready because the skin will be bubbly (big bubbles) and should be blackening on those bubbles. When the peppers reach that stage, just flip them over and do the same thing on the other side. In the picture below, the one lying across in the front is ready to flip. The others are not.

Then you let them sit till they are cool enough to handle. I took pictures of mine while I waited:

When they are cool enough to touch, just pinch a bit of skin and begin to pull:


Be sure to pull the seeds out.

If you are going to make a chile relleno, you should make a small incision (play doctor!) and remove the seeds through it. For anything else, you can just pull the chiles apart as you remove the seeds.

Now you are ready to make all kinds of delicious meals.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Southwestern Bean Salad

This is my favorite summer salad recipe and has been for a number of years now. I guess you could say it is my go-to dish! I bring it to parties and dinners and people always enjoy it (that is, those who like the ingredients). Joe won't touch the stuff! The tropical fruit and jicama takes it out of his comfort zone. But I can't get enough of it!

In the version I made today, I used mango. I actually was looking for papaya, but the store I visited only had the huge ones, and they were expensive. The mangoes, however, were half price! It was good and ripe too. Really, I like both fruits equally in the recipe, though I've never used both at the same time.

Speaking of tropical ingredients, the one that might be new to some people reading this, is the jicama.

a beautiful

half-naked view

I've heard jicama described as a cross between a potato and an apple. I think that is a good description. It grows like a potato, but the inside is light and crisp. It isn't as bland as a potato in taste, nor is it as sweet as an apple. Mine was about the size of a large grapefruit. But sometimes they are smaller, like the size of a softball. They usually are somewhat flat from top to bottom, like the example picture shows.

I'm going to use my leftover jicama for something else - maybe a jicama slaw, or jicama sticks with some sort of dressing. I only used about half of the smallest one that the store had.

Getting back to the recipe, it came from a book that I purchased in the late 1990's. At the time, and maybe to this day, it was one of the only Mexican cookbooks that listed nutritional information. Since I changed the recipe ingredients and measurements, I don't feel confident showing that information, but I am sure I knocked down the calories significantly since one of the changes I made was to cut the amount of oil in half.

Southwestern Bean Salad
Adapted from The Ultimate Low-Fat Mexican Cookbook

The Dressing:
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 Tbs. fresh lime juice
2 Tbs. vinegar
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
¼ cup light-colored vegetable oil
½ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. salt

The Rest:
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-oz can small red beans, drained and rinsed

1 small bunch scallions, sliced (green and white parts)
1 ½ cups diced jicama
1 small can of corn kernels, drained and rinsed
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 chopped mango or 1 cup chopped papaya
1 minced jalapeno (seeds removed)
¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro

The Process:
Chop-up all of the fruits and vegetables.

Combine them with the beans and corn in a large bowl.

In a small Tupperware, combine the dressing ingredients by covering the dish and shaking really hard. Add it to the rest of the ingredients and toss to coat.

Refrigerate for 4-5 hours before serving.

How To Chop A Mango

Mangoes can be, well, slippery. They also have a large pit that is difficult to cut down to because the flesh of the mango can get very fibrous towards the pit. Unlike a peach, it's not an easy operation to remove the flesh from the pit.

That makes mangoes a challenge to cut-up when no one has ever told you the best way to do it. Allow me to be that influential person!

Hold the mango like a football that's about to be kicked.

Choose a side and begin to slice downward about an inch away from the center. If you hit the pit, move the knife over and start again, but get as close to the pit as possible and still be able to cut all the way through the mango.

With your knew mango piece, run the knife in a crosshatch pattern to score it. Try not to cut through the skin.

Then take the piece and invert it so it looks kind of like a little hedgehog.

While successful, those chunks were big and had to be cut further for my Southwestern Bean Salad recipe.

Here's a picture of my second try, making the scoring marks closer:

Ah, that's better!

Then just pick it up and run the knife at the bottom of the scoring marks, just at the line of the skin. the hunks just fall right off.

Continue with the rest of the mango.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Memories of Breakfast in Cincinnati

I made a breakfast this morning that brought me back to last summer when I visited my mom in Cincinnati for the first time since she moved there. I was so close to the Mason Dixon Line, and I was hoping to have a down-home, rib-sticking breakfast of biscuits and gravy. I had put out some feelers about places to go and we were pointed toward the Echo Restaurant.

The Echo Restaurant is very retro inside and reminded me of a diner my family used to visit when we lived in New Jersey. It's long closed, but it was called Updike's. I have fond memories of the place.

But in my search for biscuits and gravy on the menu, I came across this thing called goetta. I asked the waitress what it was, and she told me it was a type of sausage.

Here's the story behind goetta. According to Wikipedia, it was a German peasant food. It originated in an area of Germany that saw a large number of people migrate to the Cincinnati area. It's made with ground meat (and pork), and I guess the oats were added to stretch out the meat and have a less-expensive meal. Goetta is very similar to a dish served in by the Pennsylvania Dutch called Scrapple, which it seems more people may have heard of. But goetta has its fans.

Linking the people to their heritage, the producer of store-bought goetta, Glier's, holds a Goettafest annually. What fun!

So as Mom and I sat there at our table, I decided that I needed to try the local foods to complete my Cincinnati experience, and I ordered it. The waitress asked me how I wanted it cooked. I asked her to bring it to me the way that most people order it. Turns out that people like it crispy on the outside and served with syrup.

Just to make sure I had a good breakfast, I ordered a side of the biscuits and gravy. But in the end, they didn't hold a candle to the goetta, so I barely touched them. Here's a pic of my breakfast that morning:

I had to have this goetta again. Since it is only made in the Cincinnati area, I had two choices. Order it online (which means that it would have to be packed in ice and shipped), or make it.

The people in the restaurant were so friendly (I wish people were that friendly here). One woman overheard me talking to my mom and politely brought herself into the conversation to tell me that making goetta was fairly easy. She told me the basic ingredients and said that the package of the pinhead oats that are used to make it has a great recipe.

We were in a rush to the airport on the day I left and I ran into the grocery store. But I didn't see the pinhead oats and my mother promised to ship some to me when she came across it.

But when I arrived home, I had to make the goetta right away, so I didn't wait for my mom to send the pinhead oats. I used steel cut oats instead. This next post is of my recipe and photos.


I took this picture today of my breakfast. However, this is part of the batch of goetta I made at the end of summer, eight months ago. When I was researching goetta I was reading peoples' stories and of their memories of goetta making. Someone said that their mother would make a big batch that would last throughout the winter. In fact, many people wrote of freezing their large batches of goetta. The process for making the goetta is a long one, so making a large batch makes sense.

It tasted almost as good as the day I first made it. It was worth saving. Here's a picture of how it looked that day. The biggest difference is how it held it's shape.

It definitely held its shape better when it was fresh. That is why for today's picture, I covered it up with my egg.

Looks aside, it was delicious. I had actually planned on taking a few bites only, since I'm the first to admit there's nothing the slightest bit healthy about goetta. But it was so good, drizzled with Grade B maple syrup and the yolk of my egg, that at first bite, I knew I was powerless to resist. I'm glad I only cooked up a small piece!

I recommend the Grade B syrup. It has a more rich maple flavor than Grade A.

The recipe I made was actually a combination of three recipes. I liked the ingredients of one recipe, but I liked the crock pot method of another. I was influenced by the third. In the end it all worked out well and this recipe was a success.

I used this (from Trader Joe's) for the oatmeal component of the recipe:

However, a traditional goetta is made with pinhead oats, which are tiny little round oat balls, and are often in birdseed mixtures. You can order it online if you want to try it out.

3 quarts water
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper

5 cups steel cut oats
2 qt. cold water
2 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
1 medium onion, minced
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 bay leaves

Boil the water, salt, and pepper on the stove top while the crock pot heats to high temperature. Add the water and the oats to the preheated crock pot. Cover and cook for 90 minutes.

Mix the beef, pork, onions, salt, and pepper together in a bowl.

Add them to the oatmeal-filled crock pot. Mix it up and toss in the bay leaves.

Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook the mixture for three hours, stirring occasionally.

When your mixture is cooked, it will look like this:

Place the mixture into a nonstick loaf pan, perhaps even lined with wax paper for ease of removal. Refrigerate the loaves for at least an hour (up to overnight).

In the morning, you can remove the mixture from the pans and slice them into individual portions. It should hold it's shape as you slice.

Fry the slices in a nonstick pan with enough oil to keep them slick on a medium-high flame. Don't try to turn over until you can see that the first side is good and brown. Most people like their goetta crispy on the outside, yet not burnt.

Serve and eat your creation! Impress your friends and family! This is good stuff.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Two Dinners of Latin Flavors

With the same three recipes (Coconut Rice with Ginger, Chiles, and Lime, Quick Black Beans, Cuban Pork Tenderloins) , I ended up with two different meal options.

Option 1 (The Tacos ):
(my personal favorite)

Option 2 (plated together in separate areas):

A very good friend of mine, Karen, is moving out of the area this week. Joe and I stopped by her home as she was packing-up the place. We found ourselves in the kitchen and mentioned we were on the way to Trader Joe’s. That reminded Karen that she had a ton of food that she was going to have to throw away, so Joe and I walked away with most of the contents of her freezer, including a pork tenderloin.

I’ve only bought pork tenderloin a few times. Most of them were for Joe to grill when friends were over. He made them, I didn't. Other times I bought a pork tenderloin it was already marinated for me, and then Joe cooked it. So this pork tenderloin was a new adventure for me.

What to do with pork tenderloin? Well, the bags of rice in my pantry came to mind. And just the other day I while digging for something in there, I saw some unsweetened coconut flakes. A recipe came to mind.

The Coconut Rice with Ginger, Chiles, and Lime recipe is a Molly Katzen recipe I made once many years ago. It comes from her cookbook Vegetable Heaven. And just my luck, I had most of the ingredients on hand!

The Cuban Pork Tenderloin Marinade was an afterthought to the rice. I went to Recipezaar.com to look at pork tenderloin recipes. Cuban Pork Tenderloin was a highlighted recipe in my search and seemed a perfect match, sharing some of its ingredients with the rice recipe. I really didn't mess with the recipe listed there.

And what Latin dish with white rice doesn't have black beans? None! I ended up throwing them together on the fly. But it's a tasty little side dish, and it's quick and easy.

The tacos were a complete surprise! The day after I made the pork (option number 1), I was running out the door to take my dog Elvis to the vet. I was hungry and only had a minute to grab something because I was already late. I threw together a mini taco and microwaved it for one minute and literally ate it on my way out the door. That is not the proper way to do a taco. But I immediately noted that these tacos were better than the dinner plate I had put together the day before.

After I got home, I redid the tacos, making them the correct way. Here's a link to Taco-Making 101.

And these are the recipe posts for the meal components:

Coconut Rice with Ginger, Chiles, and Lime

Quick Black Beans

Cuban Pork Tenderloins

Cuban Pork Tenderloins

This marinade was enough to prepare up to four tenderloins. I only had one, so I cut all the ingredients in half. For the rum, I used Bacardi Select (because I had it).

The original recipe that I found called for marinading the pork for 24 hours. I think that was too much, and I am recommending an eight-hour soak instead. I could see myself mixing the ingredients at night, and then throwing in the pork before going to work in the morning. Then, by the time you get home, they will be just right.

I grilled the pork. I found something online to guide me that said to preheat the grill on high, put the tenderloin on the grate, cover and cook for seven minutes. Then flip it over and cook six more minutes. At that point, it's best to use a thermometer. I have an instant-read thermometer, but I'm sure that a regular one would work.

My point is, the thermometer should read 150-155 degrees in the thickest part of the tenderloin. Then take it off the grill and let it sit for five minutes before slicing. I think the purpose is to seal in the juices. Otherwise, they would all run out with the first slice, and that wouldn't be good.

Note: There were Internet articles that said that once the thermometer hits 140 to turn off the flame and cover and let sit on the unlit grill for 5 minutes, but when I tried that, the inner temperature didn't climb the way they said it would. It dropped. That's why I'm not going to recommend that procedure to you.

But if you don't have a grill, you could toss the tenderloin in the oven at 400 degrees and cook for approximately 25 minutes. I think that with pork, you should count on a thermometer to tell you when it's done.

The Marinade
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup dark rum
5 green onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon black pepper

Whisk together all of the ingredients and transfer to a large heavy Ziploc plastic bag, add the tenderloins to the marinade; close bag tightly and turn to coat.

Place the bag in a large bowl or on a plate and refrigerate for 8 hours. If possible, turn over the bag half-way through the marinating time.

Side dishes in the photograph are:

Monday, April 14, 2008

Coconut Rice with Ginger, Chiles, and Lime

My first introduction to Molly Katzen was a cooking show she had on PBS about 7-8 years ago. I really enjoyed the show and was inspired by her recipes. I later learned that she is the author of the Moosewood Cookbook (which I love), along with other vegetarian cookbooks such as the one from which this recipe comes, Vegetable Heaven.

The dish is light and fluffy (the lightest and fluffiest rice I've ever had). While it has jalapeños, they are not extraordinarily hot when you remove the seeds and white ribs.

For me, this recipe is a little time consuming and requires a little bit (not much) of effort. That is to say it took more effort than throwing a cup of rice into boiling water. But it is delicious, and therefore worth it!

Coconut Rice with Ginger, Chiles, and Lime
Adapted from Molly Katzen's Vegetable Heaven

Start by making the pilaf:

Basmati Rice Pilaf
8-10 cups water
1 Tbs salt
2 cups uncooked basmati rice
1 Tbs. vegetable oil (or melted butter)

Preheat the oven to 350. Put the water and salt in a large saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Meanwhile, place the rice in a strainer and rinse several times under cold running water.

Add the rice to the boiling water and let it boil rapidly, 10 minutes for white, or until the rice is just tender to the bite. Drain the rice in a colander over the sink, and rinse with warm running water.

Brush the oil or melted butter over the bottom surface of a 9 x 13 inch pan, and spread out the rice in an even layer. Tightly cover the pan with foil, and bake for 10-15 minutes.

Carefully stir in whatever special ingredients the pilaf recipe calls for and cover the pan tightly until serving time.

Now you can add the flavor.

The Coconut, Ginger, Chiles, and Lime

1 recipe of Basmati Rice Pilaf
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 cups minced onion
3 serrano or jalapeño chiles, seeded and minced
3 Tbs. fresh minced ginger
2 Tbs. minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. grated lime zest
4-5 Tbs. fresh lime juice
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut, lightly toasted

Optional Garnishes
a handful of torn cilantro leaves
wedges of lime
slices of kiwifruit

While the rice pilaf is cooking, heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet. Add the onion, salt, and pepper and sauté over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Stir in the chiles, ginger, and garlic. Lower the heat, and continue to cook slowly for about 10 minutes longer.

Carefully stir the sautéed mixture into the rice, fluffing the rice with a fork as you stir. Gradually add the lime zest, lime juice, and most of the toasted coconut. Taste and adjust flavors as necessary. Serve hot, warm, or room temperature. Top with leftover coconut and other garnishes.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Taco-Making 101

I made these tacos with regular store-bought tortillas (Mission brand). But you can't just throw the ingredients in the center and fold them over. It just doesn't work that way.

I learned how to do it when I studied in Mexico for a summer. I went to Mexico to study Spanish. I began my stay with a family that I didn't care for. On top of that, the mother didn't cook! So when I asked my program for a family-transfer, requested to live with a family where the woman cooked. I am glad to say that I learned a little about Mexican cooking while I lived with them and studied Spanish.

Without a little taco-learning, you might just try to put your taco fillings on a corn tortilla and microwave it for a few. But it will break and fall apart when you try to eat it. It doesn't look pretty.

Here are some taco fillings on a tortilla:

Right after I took this picture, I folded the edge over, and this is what happened when I removed my hand:

This need not happen to you!

Here is one little trick I picked up in Mexico. Not only will your tortilla be more pliable, but it will taste better too!

  1. Heat up a small nonstick pan.
  2. Add maybe a teaspoon of oil. It should be just enough to lighly cover the surface of the tortilla when you put it in the pan.

  3. Put your fingers on top of the tortilla and glide the tortilla around the pan so that the oil underneath the tortilla spreads out its coverage on the bottom of your tortilla.

  4. to the left

    to the right

  5. Flip the tortilla over and repeat with the oil that is already in the pan.
  6. Cook the tortilla in that pan over high heat so it just barely toasts.
  7. Flip it back over and toast the other side as well. Here's the toasted tortilla:

The whole process only takes 2-3 minutes. Afterward, you will have a nice, tasty, pliable tortilla that you can fold over once your ingredients are on it.

When I folded these over, I put a plate on top for about a minute.

Then, when I removed the plate, the tacos held their shape. How awesome is that!

Here's my finished product: