Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mexican Slow Cooking

I think I mentioned something earlier about the pace of Mexican cooking. A great number of Mexican households still have someone (it’s as likely to be a grandmother, sister, or cousin as it is a wife) home a good part of the day to tend to boiling pots and sizzling pans. Some things, like chiles rellenos, I could really only make during vacation or for some special event where I decided I could afford a whole portion of an afternoon just to cooking. So if you don’t love cooking, this is one to eat out. But if you’re reading this, you probably do love cooking. And chile rellenos are an art that you can master, perfect, and savor. Other dishes, like albóndigas, require more time than attention, and reheat so fantastically that anyone who works from home or who has a few hours between the end of the work day and bedtime could put together, and enjoy…

Most farmer’s markets don’t’ carry them, but if you can grow red or green peppers in your garden, you can grow Poblano chiles. They’ll ripen around the same time as the red or green peppers: sometime mid-late August through the end of September. And Market Basket does often carry them.

Chiles Rellenos

Serves 4-6

1 fresh Poblano chile per person
2-3 chicken breasts
1 onion roughly chopped
1 onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic
6-8 small or 3-4 large tomatoes, diced
¼ cup flour

Boil the chicken breasts in a big pot of water with salt, pepper, one roughly chopped onion, and one clove garlic for 30-60 minutes, until the meat is so tender you can shred it with your hands. Remove the meat and set aside to cool. (Refrigerate or freeze the liquid: it’s a simple chicken broth already!)

Meanwhile, heat a cast iron skillet, then put 2-3 of the poblano chiles onto it. Cook without turning until the first side is very black then turn and repeat till as much of the skin as possible is black. Put the chiles into a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap or a lid—they’ll continue steaming for a little. Reapeat with remaining chiles.

When you can work with the chicken, use your fingers to shred it.

In the skillet, sauté the finely chopped onion with the diced tomatoes. When the onion start to turn soft, add the shredded chicken and salt and pepper to taste, and sauté together another 3-5 minutes.

Peel the black skins off the poblano chiles, leaving the chiles intact. Make a slice in each chile from the top just below the stem to about halfway down the chile. Reach inside carefully and remove all of the seeds and white part.

Stuff the peppers with the chicken mixture, making sure that they will still close.
Put half of the flour on a plate and lay the stuffed peppers on top. Then sprinkle the remaining flour on top of the peppers.

Mix 2-3 hard eggs hard until they become frothy. Gently dip each stuffed pepper into the egg mixture, being sure to keep the slice as closed as possible.

These are traditionally deep fried in about two inches of hot vegetable oil, but they can also be sautéd, in a generous 2-3 T of vegetable oil. Heat the oil and then sauté, turning gently once halfway through, until nicely browned.

Serve as is, or doused with a light tomato sauce (aka sofrito, recipe follows, in with the albóndigas recipe), accompanied by rice and beans and tortillas.

Veggie Variation

Alternatively, you can skip the whole chicken part and stuff the peppers with cheese. If you can find it, use queso Oaxaqueño, which is very like mozzarella. Otherwise, use “queso fresco” which you can find at Market Basket, or half mozzarella and half jack. Grate or shred the cheese before stuffing the peppers with it.

Serves 4

These are Mexican meatballs, served in a light and slightly spicy tomato soup. Like all meatballs, they get better with time, so ideally make these the night or even a day or two before you plan to serve them, then refrigerate them, in the soup. Everyone makes a slightly different version of these. This recipe is inspired by Blanca Nieto’s recipe in Cocina tradicional Mexicana, but in addition to translating I’ve made so many alterations and substitutions I think it’s safe to call it mine.

Tomatillos grow perfectly alongside tomatoes in Somerville. They’re ripe when the little paper coverings start to crack open, usually sometime in late August or early September.

For the meatballs:1 lb ground beef
2 tomatillos or green tomatoes
2 mint leaves
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 small onion
1 egg
1 clove of garlic

In a food processor (or a mortar and pestle, if you’re feeling traditional), blend the tomatillos, onion, mint, cumin, and garlic.

Put the ground beef into a big bowl and using your hands, blend in the tomatillo mixture, the bread crumbs, and the egg. Form into walnut-sized balls and set to rest in the refrigerator.

For the sofrito and broth:5 medium tomatoes
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (I found a fantastic adobo sauce recipe in Gourmet Magazine this summer, but I’ve yet to try cooking chipotles in it and canning them; canned chipotles in adobo sauce are available in any grocery store that has a “Latin” section, or in and “Latin” market. Note that I’m saying to use one pepper out of the can, not one can of peppers). This is what gives the broth its kick. If you want a lot of kick, use two peppers from the can. If you can’t take any kick, leave it out.
1 clove of garlic
1 small onion

Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Cut a skin-deep x in the bottom of each tomato. Parboil the tomatoes for 3-5 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set them aside to cool. Save the water. When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins (they will slip off). In a food processor or blender, blend the peeled tomatoes, the chipotle pepper, the garlic and the onion. Heat 1 T oil in a soup pot and add the tomato mixture. Cook on medium heat until it has reduced by half. This is a sofrito. You can use it to pour over your chiles rellenos. Or you can keep going for the broth for the albóndigas.

Add the water you saved from parboiling the tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Add the meatballs, reshaping as you go. Return to a boil then simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.
All Mexican soups are served with a plate condiments in the center of the table: 3-4 sliced limes; ½ onion, finely chopped; ¼ cup cilantro, roughly chopped; and 1 jalapeño, finely chopped. You take as much as you want of these and squeeze/sprinkle them on the top of the soup.