Saturday, April 23, 2011

Viva la Mexico!!

Lightly fried corn tortillas, red rice, black beans, roasted pasilla peppers, and store bought taco sauce. Cinco de Mayo in my mouth. 

Perhaps I should have saved these recipes until Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May, a traditional Mexican holiday celebrated all over the Southwest. But I just couldn't keep them to myself that long. I figured if I gave out the recipes now, you could have your own Cinco de Mayo next month--and a vegan one at that. No need to sneak anything non-vegan into this fiesta. It's all legal; it's all easy to find; it's all full of flavor. Just try it and see for yourself.

My housekeeper has been with me for 7 years now--ever since my first spine surgery. She came with good recommendations and I trust her to the point where she has long had a key to my house. I have to admit that she is such a good cook I take advantage of her being here and we've extended cleaning day into longer hours so she can do any cooking that I would otherwise have to stand a long time to do myself. Four spinal surgeries and I still cannot stand for longer than a few minutes without pain setting in. My surgeon says he should operate again, but I'm not going there. What with the osteoporosis continuing to dissolve my spinal discs, I figure it's a never-ending situation. One I don't care to be part of.

I'm going to give you Irma's recipes--with her blessings. They are actually her mom's recipes, taught to her daughter over years of living in Mexico City. Her mom is still there. Irma is a long-time legal U.S. resident, a good worker, and a credit to everything California stands for. I love her dearly. As she does me. Her daughter is practically another grandchild. When she was seven I taught her to play Chinese Checkers and in less than three months she got good enough to beat me every single time. I should have thought better about pointing out her mistakes. I taught her to bake and now she outbakes me. I showed her how to make biscuits and now hers are fluffier than mine. I figure I'm a good teacher but a spoil sport when my students show me up. The Bible says humility is a good thing. I often have to snicker at how many different ways God uses to remind me of that.

I'm going to give you every recipe for this week's menu. It would be easy to just buy packaged or canned stuff, but then you wouldn't have the best of Mexico. The recipes aren't difficult,  but they do take  time. When you get to the eating part, I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that you won't be spending your precious funds at the local Mexican restaurant anytime soon. Trust me on this.

Crisp Pasilla Pepper Sticks

Set the oven to 400 degrees
2 Pasilla peppers, cut in half, seeds and ribs removed
Slice the peppers into matchsticks, lay on a cookie sheet, cover with 1 Tbs. olive oil and a bit of salt.
Roast for 10-15 minutes, until the peppers are slightly browned and crunchy
Remove from oven and let cool.

Red Rice

While we often refer to this dish as Spanish Rice, the Hispanics call it red rice. Irma's is the best I've ever eaten. Bar none.

3 Tbs. vegetable oil into a 2 quart pot
1 cup of long grain rice
1 onion, chopped
Place the rice into the hot oil and continue stirring until the rice has a nutty smell and turns slightly brown. Add the onions and cook until they are soft and somewhat translucent.
Do not burn the rice or you will have to start over.

1/2 can of whole or diced tomatoes. We used Hunt's Redi Cut--my favorite
Put a half can of tomatoes into a food processor and pulse until it is almost fully a liquid.
Place the puree into a 2 cup measure and fill with enough vegetable stock to equal the full 2 cups . Stir it into the rice/onion mixture.

At this point you may add diced jalapeno or pasilla or any kind of hot sauce if you wish. We use Tapito, but not enough to make our mouth burn and our eyes tear up. That's only for the diehards.

Bring the whole mixture back to a rolling boil, add salt and pepper to your taste, cover the pot and turn the burner as low as it will go and still cook the food. Set the timer for 15 minutes. DO NOT PEEK UNDER THE LID. If the steam escapes, the rice will be tough and undercooked. When the timer beeps, fluff the rice with a fork and serve with minced cilantro or crisp pasilla strips atop. We used the pepper strips because of the crunch factor.

Refried Beans

Irma usually makes her own refried beans, but today was busy so we cheated and used canned.
1 can of pinto beans with juice
1 can of black beans with juice

Place all the beans into a food processor and pulse until the beans are somewhat chopped and the whole thing has become liquid. And no, this is not how we would usually do it, but Irma's way is tastier than the store bought refried beans.

Place the bean mixture into a saucepot, add salt and pepper and a dash or two of hot sauce. Leaving the lid off the pot, cook on a back burner until the beans are thick and smooth. Adjust the seasoning if need be. Should the bean mixture become too thick, add vegetable broth to smooth it out. Irma's refriend beans never contain lard or shortning.

Corn Tortilla Taco

I use white taco shells; the yellow ones fall apart too easily when fried.
1 inch of vegetable oil in the bottom of a large frying pan.
Cook the shells to your desired crispiness and allow to cool a second or so.
Fill the shells with the bean mixture, top with lettuce, onion, tomatoes and taco sauce to taste.

Serve the red rice as a side.

Although Irma is a wonderful housekeeper for this surgery-weary writer, she is an even better cook. That's something I discovered after my first spine surgery, years ago when I just couldn't get out of bed to cook and Jim didn't know how so Irma volunteered. A serendipitous discovery.

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