Thursday, August 6, 2009

Green Beans and August in Oaxaca, Mexico

I’m sure that bringing yourself to tropical food is not more environmentally friendly than bringing it to you, but I do have a few other reasons to be in Mexico for the month of August! And before I launch into the pleasures of fresh avocados, mangos, and papaya, I did discover one great and simple creation on my last night in Boston. I’d been slowly emptying the fridge, and was down to green beans and cold rice, plus freezer fare. I’d had in the back of my head “dry cooking” green beans, and this seemed a pretty good time to try it. It turns out, I think any time is a good time for it.

Green Bean and Shrimp Stir Fry

Serves 4

1 lb green beans, trimmed but not cut

1 T oil

1 lb shrimp, deveined (pre-cooked is fastest, frozen is fine)

½ cup packed fresh basil leaves

1 tsp. coarse sea salt

In a large wok, heat the oil and then toss in the green beans and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently until they start to get a little black. Removed the beans from the wok and set aside. Toss in the shrimp and cook, stirring frequently. If they were raw, they’ll be done when they are pinkish-white, 5-10 minutes. If they were cooked, you just need to warm them through, 3-5 minutes. When the shrimp are ready, add the green beans back in along with the salt and basil and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Serve immediately with rice.

Fresh cooked rice is great with this, but so is refried rice. To refry rice, heat 1-2 T vegetable oil until very hot. Add 3-4 cups cooked rice, then season with about 1 tsp. fine salt, 1.2 tsp. ground pepper, and ½ tsp. garlic powder. Stir constantly until heated through, 5-10 minutes.

We’re staying in Oaxaca, the home as far as I’m concerned of all of the best in Mexican food: mole, tamales, and Mexican chocolate all originate here. The state of Oaxaca has some of the most vibrant indigenous communities in Mexico, with seventeen official languages and as many accompanying cuisines. There are more fruits and herbs in the market that I don’t know than ones that I do! So many women walk the streets and sit on corners with steaming pots of delicacies that it seems silly to cook, but it is nice to eat at home occasionally. All we have here is a stove top, one pan and one pot. But that’s all we need. Blanca took over last night and made one of her simple staples: carne molida. Peppers and tomatoes are in full season here, any by the end of the month they will be in Boston too.

Carne molida (ground meat)

Serves 4

1 lb ground beef

½ green pepper

½ onion

1 jalapeño pepper

2 small or one large tomato

2-3 T soy sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Dice the onion, pepper, and tomato. Cut open the jalapeño and take out the seeds. Then chop it finely. In a heavy pan, brown the meat, then add the other ingredients. Cook, stirring regularly, until the onion and peppers are softened but not mushy (10-15 minutes). Serve with rice and tortillas.

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