A taste of Mexico

First he spread pureed black beans on a fresh roll, the way Israelis might spread humous.

Mexican food  (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Mexican food
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Mexican cooks’ talent for making lunch and supper dishes tempting was evident at the recent Taste of Mexico Food Festival in Los Angeles.
One way that Mexican chefs enhance meat entrees is by adding vegetables, cooked or raw, chopped or made into sauces, which are often oil-free. Festival- goers eagerly added these vegetable preparations to their plates.
It was up to the eaters to add pizzazz to simple meat-filled tortas, or Mexican sandwiches, made of grilled or braised meat in a roll, by spooning in some of the vegetables provided by the cook. At every table at which sandwiches were served, there were bowls of chopped onions and chopped cilantro (fresh coriander), and sometimes pickled vegetables, too. Often there were sauces of simmered or grilled tomatoes, onions and chili peppers, as well as pico de gallo, a mixture of diced raw tomatoes, chopped onions, cilantro and minced hot pepper.
At the table of Amapola Deli and Market there was torta ahogada, or drowned sandwich. Leticia Galvan, the owner, gave us a roll filled with shredded meat, and explained how to eat it – you dunk it completely in a sauce until it is nearly submerged, and eat the well-moistened sandwich. You could choose between tomato sauce and a deep red, hot pepper sauce that she had made from fiery dried chili peppers; she had soaked them for 24 hours, blended and strained them, and seasoned the resulting puree with garlic, oregano and salt. The sandwich was made in a firm-crusted roll that could stand up to this treatment without disintegrating.
We shared a schnitzel sandwich, which Mexicans call torta milanesa, prepared by Jimmy Shaw of Torta Company.
First he spread pureed black beans on a fresh roll, the way Israelis might spread humous. Then he topped it with fried breaded chicken, diced tomato, chopped onion and sliced avocado.
There were also three dressings we could add – mayonnaise flavored with chipotle chilies (smoked jalapeno peppers), hot pepper sauce and cilantro dressing.
Even a hearty beef stew did not seem heavy because of the way it was prepared by Colonia Taco Lounge. The meat was stewed in beer with sliced carrots and aromatic vegetables, and served as tacos on corn tortillas. Each taco was topped with hot green peppers and a salsa of roasted corn, chopped fresh tomatoes and onions.
Mexikosher’s table featured slow-roasted beef made into a salad called salpicon. Devin Weil told us that she marinated the shredded cooked beef in vinegar and olive oil, added pico de gallo and served the salad on a tostada, or fried tortilla. To finish the dish, she topped it with avocado chunks, pickled red onion strips and hot pepper aioli (garlic mayonnaise). Diners could jazz up their portions by spooning on three salsas – of tomatillo (green husk tomato), chipotle chilies or, for the most daring, blazing hot, bright orange habanero peppers.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.
Salpicon is made with beef, chicken or seafood, and is popular in much of Latin America and in Spain. This recipe is adapted from Mexican Cookery.
Author Barbara Hansen serves it on a bed of lettuce. For an appetizer, you could serve the salad on tostadas (fried tortillas).
If you like, dress the meat, potato and pepper mixture in advance, and let it marinate in a covered container in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Makes 8 servings
❖ 900 grams (2 pounds) beef stew meat
❖ ¼ small onion
❖ 2 or 3 garlic cloves
❖¼ tsp. dried oregano, crushed
❖ ¼ tsp. dried mint, crushed
❖ 3 or 4 peppercorns
❖ Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
❖ 3 medium-size boiling potatoes (450 gr. or 1 pound)
❖ 3 semi-hot green peppers, roasted and peeled (see Note below), cut in thin strips
❖ ½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. olive oil, or more if desired
❖ ¼ cup white vinegar, or more if desired
❖ 1 small avocado
❖ 10 large romaine lettuce leaves
❖ 2 medium tomatoes, cut in wedges
❖ 1 small red onion, cut in thin slices
Put the meat in a large saucepan. Add 2 cups water or enough to nearly cover the meat, the quarter onion, garlic, oregano, mint, peppercorns and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer until meat is tender, about 2 hours. Let cool.
Drain, reserving broth for another use. Use 2 forks to shred meat.
Peel potatoes and cook in boiling salted water until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain; cool and cut into 1.25-cm. (½-inch) cubes.
Combine meat, cooked potatoes and roasted pepper strips in a large bowl. Whisk ½ cup olive oil and ¼ cup vinegar in a bowl. Add to meat mixture with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Toss gently. Taste and adjust seasoning, and add more olive oil or vinegar if desired.
Shortly before serving, peel and slice avocado.
Slice lettuce crosswise into 1.25-cm. (½-inch) pieces and place on a large platter. Sprinkle lightly with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil and toss.
Arrange meat mixture on lettuce. Garnish with tomato wedges, avocado slices and red onion slices.
Serve at room temperature.
Note: To roast and peel hot peppers: Broil peppers on rack close to heat source, turning often with tongs, about 5 minutes or until their skins are blistered and charred; do not let burn. Put them in a plastic bag, close bag and let stand for 10 minutes. Peel using paring knife. Halve peppers and carefully drain off any hot juice inside.
Discard seeds and ribs, and pat dry. Do not rinse.
This recipe is from 1,000 Mexican Recipes. Author Marge Poore wrote that this classic stew from central Mexico requires long, slow cooking so that the flavors mingle and the beef becomes meltingly tender. She recommends serving it with rolls or French bread to sop up the delicious juices.
Poore uses two ancho and two guajillo chili peppers.
Use any dried semi-hot or hot peppers you can find. If you don’t have corn, omit it. You can substitute lemons for the limes.
Makes 4 servings
❖ 450 gr. (1 pound) beef shoulder with bones, cut into 5-cm. (2-inch) pieces
❖ 225 gr. (½ pound) boneless beef stew meat, cut into 4-cm. (1½-inch) pieces
❖ 1 medium onion, chopped
❖ 4 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin
❖ 2 bay leaves
❖ 1 tsp. salt, or to taste
❖ 1 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
❖ ½ tsp. ground cumin
❖ 4 dried semi-hot peppers, cut open and seeded, veins removed
❖ 3 medium tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
❖ ¼ cup chopped cilantro (fresh coriander)
❖ 3 medium carrots (170 gr. or 6 ounces), peeled and sliced 2.5 cm. (1 inch) thick
❖ 1 small turnip (110 gr. or 4 ounces), peeled and cut in 2.5-cm. (1-inch) pieces
❖ 2 small zucchini or white squash (kishuim) (170 gr. or 6 ounces), sliced 2.5 cm. (1 inch) thick
❖ 2 ears of corn, cut crosswise in 5-cm. (2-inch) pieces
❖ 110 to 140 gr. (4 to 5 ounces) young slender green beans, cut in half
❖ 2 limes, quartered
Put meat with bones and boneless meat in a large pot with 2 liters (2 quarts) of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and skim the foam that rises to the top as it boils. After 10 minutes, add onion, garlic, bay leaves, salt, oregano and cumin. Cover and simmer 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a medium-sized dry skillet over medium heat, add the hot peppers and toast them, pressing them flat with a spatula, until aromatic, about 5 seconds on each side. (Do not burn, or the peppers will be bitter.) Put the peppers in a bowl of hot water and soak about 20 minutes, then remove them and discard the soaking liquid.
Tear the peppers into pieces and put in a blender; process as fine as possible. Add tomatoes and cilantro. Puree. Strain, pushing the puree with a wooden spoon, through a fine-mesh strainer into the soup pot. Cover and simmer 30 minutes, or until meat is tender.
Add carrots and turnips, and cook 15 minutes.
Add zucchini, corn and green beans. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 12 to 15 more minutes.
Taste and add salt, if needed.
Serve in soup bowls. Pass the lime wedges at the table.