Friday, August 21, 2009

Memories of Merida..... Yucatan Flavors Remembered.....

I am in enjoying my last days in Mexico for a while since I am returning to the USA soon, and knowing that I will miss the "tastes" of home, we are visiting our favorites haunts and remembering our time here. Having lived in Merida, Yucatan for over 3 years naturally means that the Yucatecan cuisine will figure prominently in our tour. I'm missing Merida not just for the wonderful friends I left there but the city itself is fabulous- safe, clean and beautiful. A large cosmopolitan city yet still with the feeling of Colonial Mexico, adhering to it's customs, very Catholic and family oriented with wide avenues lined with flowering trees all over leading you to imposing artwork and historic monuments on the many rondellets in town; bright sunny days with amazing cloud formations every day which lead you to cool evenings filled with music in most parks making locals and foreigners come out to dance...... a lovely place filled with warm memories for us.

This is the heart of the Mayan world and it's very much present in the modern times of Merida. The Mayan dialect is the first language for many inhabitants who only learn Spanish to assimilate into the business and Merida City life. Radio stations still have bi-lingual shows on a daily basis, in Mayan and Spanish and you can see billboards all over in the Mayan language as well. What more reminders could you ask for than the Mayan ruins which are all over the Yucatan Peninsula, most within 1-2 hours from Merida (Chichen-Itza is only 1.5 hrs away and Cancun is 3 hrs on a very good highway), which share their splendor to all who visit their sites. There are so many Mayan ruins close by, you'd have something to do all year long without repeating any; add the old Haciendas you can visit, plus the beaches and Mayan pueblos that share their culture, food and activities and you see why it's the #1 retirement area according to Forbes.

Very affordable region, in fact it's the poorest area of Mexico, yet being Mexico "the land of contrasts" you will see incredible shopping centers with designer wear, modern multiplexes, casinos, theaters, luxury car and jewelry dealers and very upscale areas of town where "mere mortals" are not welcome..... lots of contrasts here, but this just means there's something for everyone and every budget, from American chains galore to typically Mexican businesses that have been in operation forever.....

Here are some prime examples of the Cuisine of Yucatan for you to try at home. I've scaled down some of the recipes to make them easier to make and to insure you'll be able to find all the ingredients:

Cochinita Pibil.- The most recognized dish in Yucatan loved by all... here's a very easy recipe!

For the achiote (annato) paste:
1 box ( a little brick) of Achiote paste from the store (most supermarkets now carry this and if not, stop by a Latin market and they'll be sure to have this)
Sour Orange Juice (from Yucatecan oranges) -otherwise use these alternates:
the juice of 6 oranges + 2-4 tbl of lemon juice -or-
1/2 cup white vinegar + 2-4 tbl water

Put the achiote brick in a bowl and add the liquid you are using from those listed above. (you can use a food processor)- dissolve and mash with a fork until it becomes a semi-thick sauce like consistency.
NOTE: This achiote paste can now be used for many dishes calling for achiote like Pollo Pibil, Pescado Pibil, Mucbil Pollo, Tikin-Xic (whole fish BBQ), etc.

In either a zip lock bag or tupperware container with a cover, put the meat and all the marinade and mix it well. Allow to sit in the fridge for at least 4-6 hrs or 1-2 days (yes, whole days) which is even better.

For the "cochinita":
2 lbs Pork meat cut in small pieces, like loin, leg, etc. This is also done with turkey & chicken.
2 large banana leaves (from Latin market too) or you can use several smaller ones too
2-4 Epazote leaves (either fresh or dried is fine)

The easiest and fastest way to cook this is in a pressure cooker, but a heavy pot with lid will do (since I don't think anyone will do this in either a pit or a wood oven....) put a pyrex or other heavy duty dish or wire basket on the bottom of the pot so the meat won't sit on the bottom - take the banana leaves, try to keep them a good size and cut the center spine off and sear them over the stove flame, one side at a time, passing them quickly over the flame so they "wilt" (you'll see them become soft, put on the flame and quickly pull them over the flame, turn and repeat on the other side), once they are soft place on the bottom of the pot (on top of the dish), so the sides come up the pot so you can fold them over and cover everything really well.
Take your marinated meat, add the Epazote and put on the banana leaf and cover really well with the banana leaves so you have a little packet kind of- add 1-2 tbl of water on top of the packet and close the pot.
If using a pressure cooker, turn it one and once it begins to "hiss" and the pressure is up, turn the heat to low and cook for about 35-45 min. If using a heavy pot, put in pre-heated 350 F oven for about 1-2 hours, or until you check it and it's very, very tender and you can shred it with your fingers. Allow to rest at least 15 min before serving.
NOTE: Same procedure when using turkey or chicken, cook until done and tender. Can also be cooked in a steamer.
For fish: Use whole fish, opened butterfly style so it lays flat. Brush with oil on both sides well and then with the achiote paste, let rest 15-30 min. then place on a fish grate/grill so you can hold it while grilling. Put over charcoal, one side at a time starting with the skin side and cook about 15 min, then turn over and cook 5-10 min until almost done. Top with onion & tomato slices.

Cebolla Desflemada (Vinegar Cured Onion).- This is always served with any of the "Pibil" dishes:

2 red onions, sliced thin
1 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar

Place the vinegar and sugar in a pan and bring to a boil so the sugar dissolves. Once dissolved, add the onion slices and lower the heat to simmer and cook until the onion changes color and is sweet and tender. Cool and reserve.

Salsa de Chile Habanero (Habanero Salsa).- Habaneros are always served in Yucatan, except this is a salsa that has been toned from from "will kill you" to simply "will sear your stomach lining", a great salsa to serve with everything if you enjoy "hot".....

10-12 Habanero chilies (should be green but orange ones can do too), stems off
4-6 Roma tomatoes
1 onion, cut in quarters
4-6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bunch cilantro
1 tbl oil
salt & pepper to taste

In a large pan put the oil and bring to temperature on high heat. Add the chilies, tomatoes, onion and garlic and roast until everything begins to look charred (but not burned), remove from the heat as it chars and place in blender. When everything is off the heat, add the cilantro, cuttin most of the stems off and using only the leaf portions, add salt and pepper and blend to obtain a chunky or smoother sauce (your choice). Careful, it's very hot!!!!
Salbutes and Panuchos.- Another traditional dish from Yucatan, the difference between them is Panuchos have refried black beans inside.

2 lbs tortilla masa
2 cups shredded turkey or chicken (you can use the Pollo or Turkey Pibil mencioned above) or use rotisserie ones.....
1 cup cured onions mentioned above
2 tomatoes sliced fine
1/2 lettuce, shredded fine
1 cup refried black beans

Either make your own masa or use store bought. Work it so it's tender and make small tortillas, not very thin and fry in a pan with oil or lard so they puff up like pillows. Lay on paper towels and as soon as you can handle them, make a slit on the puffy side (that separates from the tortilla to puff up) and fill this space with the black beans, close it up again.
To serve: Top with the meat, onions, tomatoes and lettuce. Serve with Habanero Salsa. To make Salbutes, simply skip the bean filling step and use tortillas "as is"......
Papadzules.- This dish is considered "prehispanic" by those in the know in Yucatan.....

2 cups pumpkin seeds
2 sprigs of Epazote leaf
2 cups of water
24 corn tortillas
10 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1-3 tbl lard

For tomato sauce:
4 tomatoes, roasted
1 habanero chili, roasted
1 med onion, chopped
1 tbl lard
sal & pepper to taste

The pumpkin seeds are toasted in a dry pan and then ground up in either a blender, food processor or spice grinder. The Epazote is boiled in the water for 5-10 min, then cooled. The seeds are placed in the blender, the Epazote is added along with the cooking water and blended well to obtain a thick sauce. Reserve.
The tomatoes and habanero are roasted in a pan with the lard then placed in the blender and blended well. Some lard is added to a pan, the onions are added and roasted too then the tomato mixture is added and fried, add salt and pepper. Stir until the sauce comes together and is thick.
In a pan with lard (or oil, I know...) fry the tortillas lightly so they are pliable. 1 min max. then place in a plate and fill with the egg. Roll up. Serve 3-4 per plate. Cover with the pumpkin seed sauce all over (like Enchiladas) then add some tomato sauce down the middle of these as an extra garnish. You can use an Epazote leaf as decoration on top. Serve.
I hope you will make these dishes at home so you can savor the exotic flavors of Yucatan... or better yet, why not take a trip to this most unusual and beautiful part of Mexico, then you too can know the magic of the Mayas..... so much to see for everyone, great food and a trip of a lifetime! You'll be amazed......

No comments:

Post a Comment