Intentional Tacos

 

Growing up, Saturday lunch was usually tacos, which my mother insisted were chalupas, since that’s what she’d eaten when she went to college in Texas, some time before Pearl Harbor. We didn’t know any better, never mind that we were only about 20 miles from Tijuana. We ate what we thought were tacos on Saturdays, because they were something the Indian (Native Americans weren’t around back then) maid, who shared a surname with the Mexican president known more for the eponymous laws that set off the Cristero Rebellion than any of his good deeds, could quickly make before leaving for the weekend. Fried corn tortillas, canned refried beans, hamburger cooked with chile powder, lettuce, onion, and tomato. My job was to slice the scallions. At least the tortillas weren’t those pre-fried taco shells.

Today I’ve become one of those people who treks all over town in search of the esoteric, organic, and delicious, hitting La Ruta Natural one Saturday, and 8 days (which for you Estadounidenses, is a week) later, the organic market at Paseo Altozano, occasionally faced with a double-header if the first-Saturday-of-the-Month Mercato DaVinci beckons. And then there’s the every-Wednesday-while-school-is-in-session Mercadito CEM, which now conflicts with my passion for ordering up groceries from El Arbol over on Av. Cuautla, now that I’ve learned the secret handshake.

And then all of this hunting and gathering leads me to Sundays playing cook in my kitchen, getting out my toys for a purpose other than making MorgenFood in the Instant Pot and agua de pepino with the mandolin, coming to the realization that a food stylist on staff could be useful and that I ought not give up my day job, as if I had one. I’ll get into one kind of food, and then I’ll run it into the ground. Verdolagas were last year’s cheap thrill. At the moment I’m into tacos. Not the kind we grew up with, of course, but the kind that would photograph well, since the only purpose in creating something attractive on your plate is to upload it to Facebook, right?

So now I present you with the tacos du jour: Instant Pot pulled pork, Las Tias mango habanero chutney, Thai basil, and tomatoes, all wrapped up in tortillas de flor de jamaica, courtesy of Roberto Gomez, purveyor of all things jamaica. Everything that went into this plate came from Michoacán. Lamentably, germinado jamaica (hibiscus sprout) wasn’t available, and that would’ve been so essential. Maybe by summer’s end I’ll get this designer taco thing perfected.

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A rabbit from last Sunday’s Feria Alternativa de Urandén reposes in the freezer. Butter rabbit (murgh makhana) on blue corn tortillas, anyone?

A Hot Day, a Cold Coke, and Unforgettable Pizza

One hot summer day one year more than a decade ago, around this time of year, I found myself wandering around Buenos Aires, starting the day at the Catedral Metropolitana, followed by coffee and facturas at London City and a stroll through Manzana de las Luces, then over to Monserrat and then on to San Telmo. Strolling along Defensa, or maybe another street to its left or right, I headed back toward the city center. My feet were aching, I was thirsty, tired, and hungry, and I stopped at a pizza joint, only because it was open and promised air conditioning.

Sitting at the counter and leaning behind it were a handful of sweaty old men who had less than a half a full set of teeth among them. I made myself comfortable at a Formica table, ordered a slice of onion pizza and another of a kind I don’t even remember and a Coke, and found an immaculate bathroom which was actually a little too nice for this kind of place. “It’s fugazza,” the old man tells me, “and I’m serving you only one piece now. Finish that, and you can decide if you want more.” Whatever, as long as it’s food, I figure, savoring my cold, colder-than-cold, cold Coke, wondering why we in Mexico never get Cokes as cold as they should be.

It was the most delicious piece of pizza I’ve ever had in my life. And I lingered and had that second piece. No, I did not photograph my food. I didn’t even carry a camera back in those days. I don’t even know the name of that place, and I could probably never find it again, even if my life depended upon it. But I’ll always remember that slice of a midday afternoon for the rest of my life.

And that’s why I’ll never look at sweaty, old men missing teeth sitting in a pizza joint the same way ever again. 

Selling My Sole to Veronique

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Every fortnight (or every 15 days if you’re in Mexico), Dan Perlman of Casa Salt Shaker, Buenos Aires’ best puerta cerrada, invites friends to cook with him remotely, linked up by way of a Google Hangout. Last week’s challenge was Sole Veronique, which you can read about at Dan’s blog:

Reinventing the Whisk, #1.

Now, here’s what could’ve been done on my end to improve upon this dish:

  • Add lemon zest. I forgot, and it was sitting right on the counter next to the stove.
  • Use dry vermouth instead of white wine, but not both. I happen to think that dry vermouth makes everything better and is the ideal alcohol-based cooking medium. I tend to get heavy-handed when it comes to adding wine to anything.
  • Add lemon slices to the poaching broth.
  • Try using white pepper instead of the wasabi. (Note to self: buy some white pepper.) Maybe add a little cayenne.
  • I had briefly toyed with the idea of wrapping the filet in saran and cooking it in the electric steamer, but now I’m intrigued by the idea of cooking it in Ziploc bag. I’m assuming the freezer bag quality would work. A FoodSaver hermetically sealed bag would’ve been even better. But then there would’ve been the loss of the fish-flavored poaching broth for the sauce.

I see this dish as having a lot of room for creativity and variation. And instead of explaining to anyone who doesn’t agree that “this is how it’s done in France,” simply tell them that “you’re not in France.”

While I was pleased with the fava bean, going for some color while using locally sourced produce, brown rice, wild rice or even Israeli couscous could’ve easily worked as well.

Name That Green – Round II

And now on to Round II of Name That Green. We’ve been growing this one, nonstop, since November, but only in the past month has it really come into abundance. A hardy plant, it blends nicely with arugula and basil. This should be an easy one for well-bred and chichi to quickly identify.

 

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Name That Green

We had never heard of this plant when we bought the seeds at a local store. But at $15 MXN a packet, we could easily take some risks. That’s what gardening is about, isn’t it?

Trying not to reveal our ignorance, we casually mentioned its name around those we thought might be more clued in. They weren’t. Of course, that left us smug, a feeling we love to embrace. After all, we were the first of our kind around these parts to grow kale, which is so last year.

 

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Are you au courant enough to recognize what this is?

 

 

WHY WE LOVE JOHN THORNE

Mouth Wide Open: A Cook and His AppetiteFrom the time the owner of Bookworm, an Omaha bookstore, handed me Simple Cooking and told me to read (and buy) it, more than two decades ago, we’ve been smitten, taking him to bed with us nearly as often as we’d tune on and turn in with Rush Limbaugh. Like a good fairy tale or maybe, to others, a sonnet, his books bear reading over and over again like a good-night story.

John Thorne isn’t your usual food writer, all caught up in sous-vide (which as far as I’m concerned, Birdseye came up with long ago), slow food, ethically responsible food, whatever that is, and sustainable farming. He openly admits to a fondness for canned tamales, cilantro sandwiches, and rightly admits, as anyone with good taste food ought, that there is no better than Campbell’s black bean soup, doctored only with a spoonful of sherry. He reviews cookbooks, researches the history of important dishes from macaroni and cheese to menudo, and still finds time to experiment.

He may not have gotten pozole down just right (but you’ve got to cut a guy from New England a break), but we’re forever in his debt for introducing us to chicken with forty cloves of garlic.

We bought Pot on the Fire, Outlaw Cook, and Serious Pig, as soon as each was published, just because John Thorne had written them. Frankly, neither measured up to Simple Cooking, but that didn’t stop us from picking up Mouth Wide Open: A Cook and His Appetite—and we’re happy that we did. At last, Thorne’s back to what made him love us in Simple Cooking.