Sunday, August 16, 2009

Heavy Duty Mexican.... Can only mean, the food from Puebla!

All over the globe we hear of the "Americanization" of this or that- for the most part one of the most influenced, and thereby changed forever, are other countries culinary traditions. When speaking to other restauranteurs (when I still had mine in Las Vegas not too long ago..) who represented countries like Italy, China and us with our classic Mexican Food, all told similar stories of problems due to striving to conserve "our real culinary traditions" in the face of consumers who constantly said: "this isn't Italian.... or Chinese.... or Mexican" because they were used to the versions so prevalent in the marketplace by "Olive Garden", "Panda Express" and "Taco Bell".... It was hard to swim against the tide trying to convince the "masses" that what they were being served WAS a true representation of that country's food and the other version that they were used to wasn't anything close to what it should be..... (same thing happens in Europe by tourists claiming "what's wrong with the pizza, it's not like Pizza Hut" or "this isn't Orange Chicken!"...... what can I say? Don't get me wrong, we had plenty of clients who appreciated us too.....

Anyway, enough negativity and on to more pleasant subjects. Among the great food in Mexico, and it's great all over let me tell you!... or should I say, the region that has more of the food loved by most is by far the heart of Mexico or Puebla. The center of the country has been responsible for: chalupas, pellizcadas, esquites, peneques, picadas, quesadillas, tamales, tacos, tamaletes, tlacoyos, tostadas, totopos, chilaquiles, enfrijoladas, garnachas, gorditas, memelas, mole de olla, chilemole, budín de elote con rajas, molotes, flautas, enchiladas, ponteduros, pozole, elotes asados o cocidos, atoles, fritters and coverings made from maize, chiles rellenos capones, los chiles en nogada, el mole de convento, el mancha mantel, escamoles, gusanos de maguy, el pipían, el cuitlacoche, rompope, las lágrimas de obispo, las pastas de almendra, las tortitas de Santa Clara and camotes poblanos. And consider this is not a complete list, there's much more.....

You can easily see how this region is well known for the food we all know and love.... the REAL Mexican food, the dishes with so many ingredients most people will think they will never be able to produce such dishes and so they shy away from them.... or such labor intensive and long cooking foods no one would consider this anymore!..... Yet, you can take some shortcuts and still produce these "culinary gems" at your house for everyone's delight, really! (I'm not saying that other regions don't have wonderful food, ok? I love it all, I'm just saying that the majority of food beloved by most comes from this area, that's all....)

Plus even in Puebla we find that restaurants and home cooks are using more and more processed foods (or ready made) which has also caused a change in the taste and quality of the food you find. We stay away from the big outfits (since they can afford the expensive processed items) and consistently find the best quality and genuine articles in the small "fondas" around town. I should also say we've never gotten sick at either the food stands or the small family run places but did get sick at an elegant restaurant and at a large chain one......

So let's take a look at some of the great contributions from Puebla and don't forget to look through my website under "Labels" and then under "Food from Mexico" for more recipes on great food, ok?

Chalupas.- Simple yet the flavors in this popular street food are truly addicting! I love these..

1 lb masa dough (you can make your own or buy store bought)
1/2 lb shredded pork meat
1/2 lb shredded chicken meat
1 cup pork lard (manteca, yes.... won't taste the same)
1 onion, finely diced
2 cups Salsa Verde
2 cups Salsa Roja

Salsa Verde:
2 tbl manteca
1 1/2 cups green husk tomatoes, clean
1/2 onion, cut in quarters
3-4 garlic cloves
1-2 tbl cilantro leaves
1-3 chiles serranos (optional and depends if you want it hot or not, for taste only use 1 serrano)
salt & pepper to taste

Salsa Roja:
2 tbl manteca
1 1/2 cups Roma tomatoes
1/2 onion, cut in quarters
3-4 garlic cloves
2 dried chile moritas (seeded and deveined / toasted and soaked in hot water to soften)
salt & pepper to taste

Make the sauces: Green: Put all ingredients except the lard, cilantro and salt and pepper in a pan, cover with water and cook until the tomatoes have changed color. Put everything in the blender, adding the cilantro and salt and pepper and blend well. In another pan, get the lard hot and then pour in the blended sauce and cook about 5 min on med-low heat. Reserve

Red: Once the dried chilies are soft, put all ingredients (except the lard, salt & pepper) in the blender and blend well. You might have to run through a sieve if pieces of the dried chile remain), in another pan put the lard and get it hot, pour in the salsa and add salt & pepper. Cook 5 min and reserve.

If the masa is not soft, add very little warm water and work the dough (adding very little water) until it's workable. Make small tortillas which are put on a "comal" (or large pan) with some lard on it, already hot; the tortilla is cooking so dribble some more lard on top, now put some sauce on top followed by meat and finally some onion; more hot lard goes on top right before serving.
Tinga Poblana.- A prime example of the fusing of cultures using Spanish and native ingredients to produce a highly flavorful dish.

2 lbs pork meat (can be any cut you like as long as you can shred)
1/2 onion, cut in half
2 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tsp oregano
salt to taste

1 large onion cut in fine slivers
2 garlic cloves finely chopped(or through a press)
2 sections of Spanish style chorizo, without casings
4 tomatos, roasted
1 lb green husk tomatoes, cleaned
4 canned chipotle peppers
2 potatoes, peeled and cooked but still firm and cut in cubes
8-10 prunes, pitted
1 apple, peeled and cut in cubes
1/2 cup raisins
1 avocado, cut in slices
salt & pepper to taste

Put the ingredients in the first section to cook in water (or in a pressure cooker) until the meat is soft. Allow to cool and shred. Reserve.

Roast the red tomatoes in a pan with 1 tsp of oil (or in the oven) until charred. In a pan, put the green tomatoes and 2 of the chipotle peppers until they change color. Put all this in the blender and mix well, run through a sieve and reserve. The other 2 chipotles are cut in thin strips.

In a large cazuela (or deep heavy pot) put some lard and get it hot. Add the cut onion, garlic and chorizo and fry so the chorizos separate and everything is golden. Remove most of the resulting grease but leaveabout 2 tbl. Add the blended sauce to the hot oil and then add the shredded meat, the potatoes, prunes, raisins, apple and mix it all well. Cook for about 15 min to allow the flavors to come together. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Turn off the heat and allow to rest for another 15 min before serving. To serve: Avocado slices are put on top along with some chipotle strips (caution, these are hot so you could leave these out).
Pipian Verde.- This Green Mole (all sauces with chiles are called mole) has different ingredients that make it unusual and exotic, but lovely....

1 whole chicken cut in parts or 6-8 leg quarters (or your choice)
1/2 onion
2 garlic cloves
1 celery sprig
1 carrot cut in half
salt & pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
4 lettuce leaves, washed
2 garlic cloves
2-5 serrano chiles (optional, or use 1 for flavor only)
1 med onion, cut in slices
oil for frying
some cilantro leaves for decoration

The chicken is placed in a pot with the ingredients in the first section, covered with water and cooked until tender. Take out the chicken and vegetables and run the broth through a sieve to use later.

In a large cazuela (or pan) roast the seeds until they begin to "pop" but do not burn. Place them in a blender, along with some of the broth, cilantro, chiles, lettuce, garlic and onion and blend well until you get a thick yet smooth sauce. Put so me oil in the pan and once hot, pour the sauce in this and fry for 3-5 min. Add the chicken so it can cook in the sauce for about 10 min. (on low heat). Serve with some of the cilantro leaves as decoration.
NOTE: You can also use this sauce for pork ribs which are either fried or oven baked and you put them in the sauce to cook for 10 min just like before in the sauce.
Mole Poblano.- Always loved mole but were afraid to give it a go? Here's an easier version of this most flexible dish you can make ahead (keeps great in the fridge, just add some chicken stock to it and use) and keep whenever the mood hits.... Can be used with chicken, enchiladas, pork, over beans or quesadillas, nachos, omelettes, tostadas......

3 dried mulato chilies, seeded and deveined
5 dried ancho chilies, seeded and deveined
5 dried pasilla chilies, seeded and deveined
1 cup manteca (yes, again...)
6 garlic cloves
2 med onions, sliced
1 banana, cut in slices
1 cup raisins
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 tsp ground clove
1 tbl ground cinnamon
2-3 Mexican chocolate bars, in pieces
1 1/2 cups tomatoes, cut up
1/4 - 1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)

Turkey or Chicken, in pieces
1/2 onion
1 carrot
1 celery stalk with leaves
some parsley
salt and pepper

Put the turkey or chicken in a pot, cover with water and add the ingredients after the meats to make a rich broth. Once cooked and tender, remove the meat and run the broth through a sieve to make it clear. Reserve.

In a large pan, put 1 tbl of the lard and get hot and then, fry the chilies (which have been split in half) on either side so they get soft. Have a pan of hot water ready so you can put the chilies in the water after they fry. Allow to boil in the water for 10-15 min so they get soft.

In a large cazuela (or the pan you used before) put more lard in and fry all the ingredients (except the sugar) well but don't allow to burn, then put them in a blender and mix well with the reserved broth so you start getting a paste that's well blended which you will return to the pan with some lard and fry again but this time adding broth until you get a sauce like consistency. Cook for 10-15 min, stirring all the time. Add the sugar and taste, add salt and pepper if needed and simmer for 20-30 min.

Add the turkey or chicken (or whatever meat you want), allow to simmer for 10 more minutes and then turn off the heat and reset. If you are just making a sauce to keep, omit any meat and stop there. Once cooled, put in tupperware and keep in the fridge.

To serve, top with some of the sesame seeds and a sprig of cilantro.
All done for now but you will be able to savour some of Puebla's best food at home. I hope you will try some of these and serve them in your home, they're all really great and really not hard to make.

The flavors of these dishes will either introduce you to classic Mexican Food or evolve fond memories of time spent in the area of the heart of Mexico.... either way your family is in for a treat and a lovely evening with great food!
Best wishes from Puebla to all..... talk soon.

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