Posts tagged Mexican food
Thanks to Jessie Voigts, the guru behind WanderingEducators, for sharing this easy, inventive Mexican-inspired salad recipe.
When I was in college at Michigan State University, we used to go to El Azteco Restaurant for our Sunday dinners, when the cafe was closed. El Az offered bean and cheese burritos at a fair price for a college student in the late 1980s: $1.50 each. Since I graduated many moons ago, they’ve moved to a better location – and I’m able to afford more than a bean and cheese burrito.
One of my favorite dishes at El Az is the Topopo Salad. Piled high on a plate, it’s a crunchy green salad with chicken and peas, limey dressing, refried beans, and cheesy chips. It’s very easy to make (and adapt) at home. Use what you have – tonight, I was out of cilantro (what?!), but did have some lovely colored sweet peppers to throw in.
The recipe is flexible in terms of ingredients and quantity. It is not good left over, so if you think you chopped too much, only put the dressing on what you’ll eat tonight.
Equal parts olive oil, lime juice, and white wine vinegar (rice vinegar works well, too)
Minced garlic, to taste
Salt, to taste
Mix this all up in a mini food processor or jar. Now, I like my salad lightly dressed, while our daughter likes more dressing on hers. Keep the jar handy for those that like more.
Iceberg lettuce (I know, this is the only time I buy this lettuce. Trust me – you need crunchy lettuce)
Cooked chicken, chopped
Avocado, chopped (or guacamole, if you feel like making it)
Green onions, chopped
Frozen peas, thawed and crisp (or edamame, if you have them and would like extra protein)
Colored peppers, chopped
You can use a can of refried beans, or, you can fall in love with Orangette’s creamy black beans and use those instead, like I do (if you make one can, instead of four at a time for her larger recipe, you can finish the beans in the time it takes to chop everything).
Grated Cheese (we love the Tillamook extra sharp. Quality is important here)
- Get your beans ready, either by cooking the black beans or heating up the refried beans.
- Chop everything for your salad. Combine in a large bowl with the dressing, quantity to taste.
- Spread enough tortilla chips on a pan for whoever is joining you for dinner. Top with plenty of shredded cheese, and slide into a 350 oven for 5-8 minutes. You want the cheese gooey, not crispy.
- Divide the chips up onto the plates. Top with beans (spread them around a bit) and then you can go one of two ways, depending on how you like it:
- Pile the salad on top of the chips and beans (photogenic, Instagram-ready)
- Put the salad next to the chips and beans (no wet chips, more scooping of prized ingredients)
- Now is the time to have people add things they love but others don’t – avocado, banana or jalapeno peppers, olives, chopped onion, etc.
- Serve and enjoy. This salad is the best thing you can have in the winter. Or summer. Or spring or fall. It’s perfect for a crowd, and I always try to keep the ingredients on hand for when our teen has friends drop by and they are hungry enough to devour everything in my kitchen. El Azteco knew what they were doing…
Tangy tomatillos bursting with tiny seeds blend beautifully as the base for this green chile sauce. Spinach gives the sauce a bright color and a nutritional punch – and your kids won’t even be able to taste it.
This green chile sauce is a type of guisado, or Mexican stew. Traditionally, a guisado is served with rice, beans and toasted corn tortillas. You can do the same – place the pork green chile, Mexican rice, and black beans onto each person’s plate. Then in the middle of the dinner table offer a plate of toasted corn tortillas. Your kids can make their own tacos or tear the tortillas into pieces to use as a “fork” to eat the stew.
We use these leftovers to make either nachos or quesadillas on day #2. If you don’t like pork, try chicken. Another tip: To make the sauce spicier add the cayenne pepper. Ease up on the heat by nixing the green chiles altogether.
2 cups fresh spinach
1 cup fresh cilantro
1 28-ounce can tomatillos (available in the Mexican section of many grocers)
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles (same section as above)
1/3 cup chopped white onions
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 lbs. pork loin chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. cayenne powder (opt.)
Salt and pepper to taste
- In a blender place the onions, garlic, green chiles, drained tomatillos, spinach, and the juice from the lime.
- In a large skillet bring the olive oil to medium-high heat. Place the pork pieces into the pan and cook until heated through and lightly crisped on the outside. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Add cayenne powder, if using.
- Turn the heat down in the pan and then gradually add in the green sauce. Heat until it just comes to a simmer and cook for ten minutes.
- I sprinkle the green chile pork with queso fresco, if I have it – or in a pinch feta cheese makes a decent substitute.
We made two types of taquitos last night – shredded beef and mashed potato. Guess which ones got gobbled up first?
The crisp outside of corn tortilla pairs perfectly with the smooth filling of the mashed potato. Plus, you can pump up the potatoes with whatever flavors your family likes – chopped green chiles, corn, loads of cheese, fresh cilantro… Yes, if you have leftovers in the fridge this is the time to dig through and add in a few to your mashed potatoes before you roll them into the corn tortillas.
A few taquito-making tips:
- Don’t overdo it on the filling or else your taquitos will explode (yes, hot oil and filling all over!) when you fry them
- Use a cast iron pan, if you have one, to heat the oil and then fry your taquitos – cast iron pans hold in the heat better than other types
- Frying isn’t the only way to get your taquitos crisp you can also bake them at 375 degrees Fahrenheit on baking sheet coated with cooking spray (they won’t get quite as crisp)
- Try flour tortillas (called flautas when they’re rolled and fried like this) instead of corn
- Get your kids involved – they’re usually great at rolling taquitos
Servings: 15 taquitos
3 medium-sized potatoes
1 1/2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. milk
1 tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro, opt.
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 tsp. cumin, opt.
15 corn tortillas
Oil for frying
- Peel potatoes and cut into bite-sized pieces and add to a pot of salted water.
- Place the pot on the oven and bring the water to a boil. Cook potatoes until soft.
- Using a hand-held blender, whip together the potatoes, butter, and milk. Add salt and pepper to taste (and cumin, cilantro if you’re using them). Blend until smooth.
- Over medium-high heat either on a gas grill top or a skillet, toast the corn tortillas and then immediately put them into a tortilla warmer or wrap them in a clean kitchen towel. This steams the tortillas and softens them so they’re more pliable.
- Spread 2 tbsp. potato mixture onto the steamed corn tortillas. Roll up the tortillas starting with one end and working to the other.
- Place the rolled tortillas on a plate while you finish preparing the rest. Finish rolling all of the tortillas.
- In a heavy-bottomed pan bring about 1/4″ oil to medium-high heat. Place the taquitos 5 at a time in the hot oil with the seam side faced down.
- Fry the taquitos until crisp and then flip to the other side – about 3 minutes. Cook on the other side for 3 minutes.
- Remove the first set of tortillas and cook the other two batches.
- Serve covered with cheese, shredded lettuce, salsa, and chopped tomatoes.
Tres Leches translates into three milks cake. With nearly the consistency of a pudding cake, the dense cake batter is designed to soak up a sweetened milk glaze that you pour over it before after baking and before adding the frosting.
I first sampled the traditional vanilla tres leches not in Mexico, but La Crosse, Wisconsin of all places. In a tiny Mexican restaurant frequented by college students and foodies our server brightened when we ordered the tres leches. The owner of Iguana’s Mexican Street Cafe made it from scratch and took great pride in serving us a huge slice. I’ve been thinking about making it ever since. That was July.
I wanted to amp up the flavor of the cake so of course I thought it needed chocolate. I found a version of Chocolate Rum Cake from Chow that lead me through how to add chocolate to both the cake batter and the tres leches glaze. But I also wanted to temper some of the tres leches glaze, which can become too sweet for my taste, with another ingredient. I found it in coconut milk – a great stand-in for much of the heavy cream and some of the sweetened condensed milk. I just couldn’t stop there. I also added dark cocoa powder into the whipped frosting for a rich dessert that really is more like Cinco Leches – sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, coconut milk, heavy cream, and milk chocolate chips. I usually opt for semi-sweet but this creamy dessert works better with a milky chocolate.
Both of the recipes I combined made the tres leches cake as a layer cake. I like it better in a casserole dish – it’s easier to make that way and serves more people. If you want a layered cake go ahead but your cake may not soak up all the tres leches glaze, which was another reason I went with the dish – I didn’t want to lose any of the sauce!
For the cake
¾ cup water
2 tsp. dark cocoa powder (opt. I used black onyx)
½ cup cocoa powder
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 ¼ cups sugar
5 large egg yolks
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. coconut extract (opt.)
8 large egg whites
¾ tsp. cream of tartar
For the tres leches
4 ounces chocolate (milk chocolate chips work well)
1 cup coconut milk
½ cup sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup evaporated milk
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. coconut extract (opt.)
For the frosting
2 cups heavy cream
1/8 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp. dark cocoa powder
1 tsp. coconut extract (opt.)
For the garnish
Shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
Mini chocolate chips
For the cake
- Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously coat the inside of a 9” x 13” casserole dish with cooking spray.
- Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, ½ tsp. salt, and ½ cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar in a large mixing bowl.
- In another bowl whisk the egg yolks, oil, and extracts until combined. Whisk dark cocoa powder into the water right in the measuring cup and then whisk into the egg mixture.
- Whisk the egg yolk mixture into the flour until combined. (Lots of whisking!)
- In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites, ½ tsp. salt, and the cream of tartar in a bowl until the egg whites become frothy, about 2 minutes. (Yes, you’re essentially making a meringue.) Gradually add the rest of the sugar, ¾ cup, into the egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes.
- Working in three batches, add 1/3 of the egg whites to the flour-egg yolk mixture and fold together until there are no white streaks. Follow the same procedure with the rest of the egg whites.
- Pour the batter into the casserole dish and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Test to see if the cake is done by putting a toothpick into the center – if it comes out clean take the cake out of the oven. Cool the cake for 10 minutes.
For the tres leches glaze
- In a large, glass measuring bowl, melt together the chocolate and ¼ cup heavy cream in the microwave on medium-high heat for 90 seconds. Stir until smooth.
- Allow to cool slightly.
- Whisk in coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, extracts.
- Pour 1/3 of the tres leches glaze onto the cake. Wait 10 minutes and then pour the next 1/3. Follow the same process with the rest of the glaze.
- Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or, if possible, overnight.
For the whipped topping
- With a hand-held mixer beat the whipping cream until frothy. Add the coconut milk and powdered sugar to the whipping cream until stiff, about 3 minutes.
- Add in the extracts and cocoa powder and whip 30 more seconds.
- Spread the whipped topping onto the cake using a spatula.
- Optional toppings – shredded coconut and mini chocolate chips.
- Refrigerate 1 more hour.
- On a large plate use chocolate sauce (such as Hershey’s syrup – it’s for the design not the flavor) and make a swirl shape on the plate.
- Use the extra tres leches sauce in the pan to do another swirl of sauce.
- Cut the cake into square pieces.
*Not a coconut fan? The coconut flavor in this recipe is subtle. Nix the coconut extract and the coconut milk in the whipped topping if you don’t like coconut. Keep it in the tres leches and you probably won’t notice it. Or, just go ahead and use all heavy cream instead of any coconut milk.
Fresh peaches are popping up everywhere–including on my fruit tray. Not every peach gets gobbled up in its prime so I like to get a little creative in how I use them. Enter salsa. The sweet flavor and smooth texture of peaches tempers the sometimes bitter undertones of dried chiles in homemade salsa.
Whether you have peaches that are starting to go mushy, or you just want to show them off in something new, try this amped up version of DIY salsa. Use it as enchilada sauce, salsa (it’s thinner, more in keeping with the traditional, Mexican variety)–I’m even marinating pork cutlets in it right now to go on the grill tomorrow.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Servings: around 3 1/2- 4 cups
3 ripe peaches
6 dried guajillo chiles
9 dried arbol chiles
1/2 onion, cut into large wedges
1 clove garlic
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes (I used Red Gold Petite Diced with Green Chiles)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika or cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil (optional step)
- Prep the dried chiles. On a medium-high heat skillet, toast the chiles until the skins start to look softer and slightly cooked (around 2 minutes, rotating the chile as it heats). Immediately place the chiles into a large bowl of hot water. Add the peaches to the bowl, too.
- Optional step: Roast the onions by putting them briefly onto the hot skillet after the chiles. Or, you can just place the onions into the water without toasting.
- In a blender, combine the canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, juice from the lime, and cumin.
- Remove the chiles from the water. Carefully cut around the tops of the chiles and remove as much of the seeds as possible. Add the chile skins to the other blended ingredients. Blend again.
- Remove the skins and pit from the peaches and add them to the blender. Mix until smooth. (You may need to add more water to get your desired consistency.)
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Now for another optional step: To fully meld the flavors of the salsa together it helps to cook it before cooling it to serve. Here’s how it works, bring the oil to medium-high heat in a saucepan, add the salsa (careful–it can splatter), then heat through. That’s it.
*Store the extra salsa in the fridge for up to a week.
For the finishing touch on tostadas, I like to add a little bit of sour cream swirls. They’re easy to make and the perfect job for kids.
Here’s how to make sour cream swirls for Mexican dishes:
- Place 1/3 cup sour cream into the corner part of a plastic baggy.
- Use kitchen scissors to cut a small hole in the corner of the bag with the sour cream. You’ve just created a DIY sour cream pastry bag!
- Make designs on your tostados, tacos, nachos, or flautas with the sour cream.
“Holidays” are a great excuse to introduce your kids to new foods. Yes, I’m using air quotes as I type. Cinco de Mayo–literally, the 5th of May–is an American invention (granted, there was a battle in Puebla, Mexico, in 1862 where the much smaller Mexican army defeated a large French force). But you won’t find any big celebrations in Mexico, outside of Puebla, to honor Cinco de Mayo. Nope, as a couple of writers recently put it: “Cinco is as American as apple pie. So is the U.S. Hispanic melting pot.”
Whew, with that out of the way, it’s time to move on to the good stuff–getting your would-be picky eaters to sample something new.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Swap the cheese
Queso fresco, a fresh Mexican cheese (I know, that’s pretty much a direct translation, but it’s true), tastes like a cross between feta and mozzarella with a hint of ricotta thrown in. The cheese usually comes in a solid circle that you crumble up to put on enchiladas, nachos, tacos, tostadas…you get the idea.
Picky eater tip: We call this ‘crumble cheese’ at our house for good reason–you have to crumble it before you use it. Perfect. Kid. Job. Ask your child to be the official crumbler and when she wants to sample what’s all over her fingers, say, Yes!
Bag the regular tortilla chips
My all-time favorite tortilla chips are El Milagro tortilla chips. No Tostitos. No Santitas. Not even Xochitl come close. Ahem, yes, I get a bit particular about my tortilla chips. Get this, there are all of four ingredients in El Milagro tortilla chips–stone ground corn, corn oil, sea salt, calcium hydroxide (it helps glue the corn together according to the all-knowing folks at Wikipedia). And the chips are thicker, heartier than your standard “restaurant-style” chip. Admittedly, El Milagro can be hard to find–I see them most often in Mexican grocers, but they’re starting to pop up in larger grocery chains too. Look for them!
Picky eater tip: Dip it! Give your kids some salsa for their chips and let them dip away.
Use corn tortillas
Toast them! Please. Corn tortillas are bland and caulk-like until you toast them and then something magical happens–they become entirely different in flavor, texture, aroma. It only takes a few minutes to toast up a stack of corn tortillas. Then try out your favorite taco fixins’ in the toasted corn tortillas instead of the stale, hard-shelled kind.
Picky eater tip: Break out the cookie cutters. You can make small shapes in the corn tortillas (before or after toasting). Granted, your filling may fall out of the tortillas with too many openings, so you might want to keep the cookie cutting to a few conveniently placed shapes. I use my linzer cookie cutters from King Arthur Flour.
Make your salsa
Homemade salsa is simple to make, really. You can keep it basic and just chop up tomatoes, onions, fresh jalapeno chiles, and cilantro for a pico de gallo. If you want more of a authentic salsa consistency, put all of the pico de gallo fixins’ into a blender with a little lime juice for a thinner salsa.
Picky eater tip: Have your kids help you make the salsa. When my kids have friends over, we often whip up salsa together. I let them cut up the ingredients and adjust the seasonings.
Bring on the cumin
Add something new to your standard Tex-Mex recipes–ground cumin. You can find cumin in pretty much any grocery store. Sprinkle in cumin with your taco fillings, guacamole, salsa.
Picky eater tip: Your kids aren’t likely to notice this subtle seasoning added in. But it will give your Mexican dishes and added depth and more authentic flavor.
Your turn: Are you planning a special meal for Cinco de Mayo?
My tween has been on a pistachio kick lately. And I’ve been encouraging it. She shuns peanuts and peanut butter–a childhood staple for me. So if pistachios are the closest thing I can get her to like besides peanuts, I’ll take it. With all the extra pistachios around, I’ve been putting them in just about everything, spinach pesto last week and salsa now.
Servings: 2- 2 1/2 cups
Prep time: 20 minutes
7 guajillo chiles (dried)
1 small onion, cut into wedges
1/2 serrano pepper
1/2 clove garlic (or throw in the whole thing if you’re a garlic lover)
1/4 cup pistachios (roasted, shelled)
1 26-oz can whole tomatillos, drained (or 6-8 fresh tomatillos)
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice or white vinegar
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
Salt to taste
- Cut the ends off of the guajillo chiles and remove as many of the seeds as possible.
- Bring a non-stick or cast-iron pan to medium-high heat. Place the chiles and onion wedges on the pan just until fragrant, about 2 minutes. You’ll notice that the chile skin becomes softer as it’s toasted. Watch the chiles carefully; they burn easily.
- Fill a large mixing bowl with hot water. Put the chiles and onion into the water while preparing the other ingredients (about 5 minutes).
- Cut the top off of the serrano chile and then cut it lengthwise. Carefully remove the seeds and ribs (you might want to wear gloves).
- In a blender, process the tomatillos, chiles, onion, cumin, lime juice, serrano, garlic, pistachios, and salt until smooth.
Plenty of uses beyond chip dipping:
- Saute chicken with the salsa
- Mix salsa and ranch dressing for salad
- Make quesadillas with cheese and salsa tucked inside the flour tortillas
I found gorgeous peaches at the market today, which I thought would pair perfectly with pork in traditional Mexican tacos. With authentic tacos, it’s all about the fresh fillings. Seriously, no cheese, no unidentifiable gritty ground meat.
For an easy, tasty summertime meal I chopped up pork cutlets into bit-sized pieces sauteed them with a few spices and lime before adding thin-sliced peaches, cilantro, and homemade salsa.
Picky eater trick: For my kids, I put all the ingredients on their plates and then let them construct their tacos on their own. My youngest later dipped the extra peaches right into the salsa. I surprisingly tasty combo!
Prep time: 30 minutes
2 lbs. pork
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- Cut the pork into bite-sized pieces.
- Bring 1 tablespoon grape seed (or canola oil) to medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed skillet.
- Saute the pork until heated through and crisped, adding garlic and cayenne powders and ground cumin half way through cooking.
- Squeeze half of a lime over the meat before removing it from the pan.
- Cut the peach into thin slices (I didn’t bother removing the skin since the slices were so slim).
- Serve the pork with fresh peach slices, cilantro, and salsa on toasted corn tortillas.
A molcajete is pretty much a the Mexican version of a mortar and pestle with Aztec origins. Mine came from a side street market in Mexico City and weighs 10 pounds (thank goodness my husband got it before the airlines started charging you to check your bags).
Made of volcanic rock, the molcajete’s porous surface absorbs the flavors of what has been ground in it before. So the garlic rub you might have used to start off a salsa a month ago will leave hints of flavor in the guacamole you make today; every batch is entirely unique.
For instructions on how to season your molcajete you can check out my post on Wandering Educators.
To create a basic tomato salsa at home using a molcajete here’s what you need:
Prep time: 15 minutes (depending on how hard you grind)
3 Roma tomatoes, chopped into slices* (See note)
2 slices onion
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (or 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds)
Peppers (you can use whatever kind of heat your family prefers–cayenne powder, fresh serrano peppers, jalapenos)
- Place the cumin and garlic in the molcajete bowl. Grind into a paste using the hand tool.
- Next, grind the pepper of your choice in the molcajete bowl. I often use dried chiles, but fresh is great too.
- Add the tomatoes, onion, and cilantro to the molcajete and start grinding. (My kids have fun doing this).
- Mix in salt to taste and serve at your table in the molcajete.
*Note: Many salsa recipes call for you to remove the tomato skins before grinding. I’ve found that the skin comes off during the process and you can take it out easily. Another option is to use drained, canned tomatoes. These work well, especially the roasted variety.
Your turn: Have you ever used a molcajete? What about a mortar and pestle?