Charro Beans, Here We Come.

Yet another entry in the ever expanding string of dishes I seem to mention frequently, but have yet to actually post a recipe for. This one comes from Doug in Iowa, (Des Moines, in fact). He writes, ‘I’ve enjoyed your bean recipes lately, but when I went looking for charro beans, I couldn’t find anything. Were they maybe named something else?’ No, Doug, they weren’t. And for something I oft tote as a necessary part of a homemade Mexican meal, you’d think they’d be here alright. Anyway, time to fix that one, so charro beans, here we come.

Now, for the record, a Charro is a Mexican cowboy – those guys dressed in gorgeous outfits who participate in the coleadero y charreada, a rodeo that developed from informal inter-ranch skills competitions. While more than one Mexican state claims the origin, it seems likely that Jalisco takes the prize – Charros, (and Charras), originated in the Salamanca province of Spain, and then settled there, back in the colonial days.

That bean dish that shares the moniker also came from the ranch lands. Like chili, charro beans are a stew, meant to be a hearty meal to fuel a cowboy or cowgirl for many hours of hard work. The most traditional bean used is a pinto, which is generally combined with pork, chiles, tomato, onion, and garlic. Charros are delicious, and so they naturally spread with the folks who love it, perhaps most notably to northern Mexico and Texas, and into Tex-Mex cuisine. Nowadays, versions can be found damn near anywhere there’s a decent Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant.

Now, that said, charro beans were and are also meant to use up what you have that needs to be used, and/or, what you really love to combine – There are no hard and fast rules, despite what you may read elsewhere. Like all great signature dishes, there’s a ton of cooks who make them their own way, just as you should, so let’s break things down by primary elements.

Charros are best made with high quality, dry beans

First, the beans – You can and should use whatever you have and love, though they should be a variety that holds up well to low and slow cooking, (which is a lot of ‘em, thankfully.) I’ve made charros with white, black, brown, and red bean varieties, and they were all delicious. I strongly recommend making them with high quality, dry beans like Rancho Gordo, but if you’re in the mood and have a need for speed, they’ll make a can of beans far more than presentable pretty quickly.

If you’re not a meat eater, charros are a great dish, because you sure don’t need any for this to be a hearty and delicious meal. For those that do, it’s usually pork, and I’ve seen everything from bacon to pork shoulder, smoked ham hock, chorizo, and even hot dogs – Remember, it’s what you’ve got that needs using and what you love, and nada else.

Chiles are a must in charro beans

Peppers of some kind are a must, but whether or not they’re hot is up to you. Sweet peppers are fine if that’s your jam, as are nuclear chiles. Most folks probably lean toward jalapeños as the standard, and for good reason – Field stripped, they’re relatively mild and tasty as all get out. Tossed into the mix whole, they have reasonable heat. Go with what you love.

Plum tomatoes are the go to for charro beans

Tomatoes are a must, and plum varieties like a Roma are most common. You can use canned if that’s what you’ve got, but if fresh ‘maters are in season, that’s where you aughta be.

Onions are also a must, and they need to be notable in the mix. That said, the variety is up to you. When fresh sweets like a Walla Walla are in season, that’s where I go. In general, you want fresh stuff – a really strong old onion can poison this dish pretty quickly.

Garlic is a must. Not so much that the dish screams its presence, but enough to give it that low, sweet funky note.

A little salt and fresh ground pepper, and fresh cilantro is the baseline seasoning for charros. There’s lots more you can use if you like – Mexican oregano, lemon thyme, and citrus juice and zest have been long time faves of mine, for good reason.

Now, as for beer, the answer is no, it’s not necessary. That’s a Tex-Mex specific trick that I personally don’t do. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t, though – We put beer in chili or stew, and it’ll go just fine in charros. Personally, I go with the liquid the beans cooked in, bean stock, because, well, it’s a bean stew, right? Anything else is up to you – put whatever you like in there that makes it your signature version – To each their own.

As for cooking process, it’s best to go the traditional low and slow method. If you’re in a hurry and you have the goods, very decent charros can be whipped up in the time it takes to get other things ready for tacos, for instance. If what you have is canned beans, adding the required adjuncts, quickly diced, with enough chicken or veggie stock to get the right, soupy consistency, coupled with a 30 minute simmer, will be more than OK.

If you’re using dry beans, they need to be par cooked before you begin the charro cook. This is the stage I cook all my beans to – al dente, so that I can do stuff like charros, barbecue, or baked dishes without the beans turning to mush – That’s how I freeze them for pretty quick future use, too.

A lot of charro recipes tell you to simmer the beans in water, fry and sauté most of the other ingredients, and then assemble, heat through for a bit, and serve. For my taste, you get a far better dish with deeper flavors, if you simmer everything together for at least 30 minutes, and longer if you wish. Finally, you’ll see that I roast most of the constituents in my charros – This creates a notably richer dish.

 

Charro Beans de UrbanMonique

1 Pound par cooked, dry Pinto Beans (or any reasonable substitution)

Bean Stock to cover

Chicken or Veggie Stock to top off

6 strips smoky, Pepper Bacon

2 medium Sweet Onions

4 fresh Roma Tomatoes

2 fat cloves Garlic

2-4 Chiles (We like jalapeño or serrano)

1 small Lemon

6-8 stalks fresh Cilantro

1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

Salt and freshly ground Pepper to taste

NOTES:

1. High quality beans like Rancho Gordo really and truly do not require anything added when initially boiled. You certainly can put stuff in there if you like – I often just toss in a couple bay leaves, and that’s plenty. If you want a more definitive base, a thick slice of onion cut in half, a few 1/2” rounds of carrot and celery, and those bay leaves, will do nicely.

2. You do not need to soak high quality beans before boiling them – You really don’t.

3. You will want a ready supply of boiling water to add to the beans as they cook, so either a tea pot, hot pot, or spare pan should be set up with at least a quart of water therein.

4. You can prep everything but beans as they are boiling if you like, or wait until they’re cooked to al dente – Your choice, and it won’t hurt a thing either way.

Pour beans into a colander and rinse thoroughly, inspecting for rocks and other detritus.

Transfer beans to a heavy sauce pan over high heat and add enough water to cover by at least 2” – and 3” is better.

When the beans begin to boil, set a timer for 10 minutes.

When your 10 minutes are up, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Hang out long enough to see where things settle, and adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer.

Keep an eye on things as the beans cook, topping off the water to maintain at least 2” over the beans – This will change as they absorb water, so don’t leave them for long.

At 30 minutes into the simmer, give the beans a good stir and check one or two for doneness – They will not be close in all likelihood, but you’d much rather catch things on the upslope then down, eh?

When your beans are al dente – Still not soft enough to be ready to eat, but not far off, remove the pan from heat while you prep everything else.

Peal and trim onion and garlic, stem chiles, (and field strip the chiles, if you’re cutting the heat factor down – aka remove the white membrane – That’s where the heat lives).

Cut onion, tomatoes, and chiles in half.

Cut lemon in half, return half to fridge. Zest the working half.

Arrange onion, chiles, tomatoes, garlic, lemon, and bacon on a baking sheet, on an upper middle oven rack.

Set oven on broil and roast until bacon looks done and the veggies begin to blister and blacken.

Turn the veggies and the bacon once and continue roasting for another 3-5 minutes, until the bacon looks done on the turned side.

Remove from oven and allow everything to cool enough to handle.

Dice all the roasted veggies, and mince the garlic.

Rough chop cilantro.

Turn the heat under the beans back up to medium high.

Add roasted veggies and stir to incorporate.

Add chicken or veggies stock to cover beans by at least 2”.

Allow the beans to come back to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to maintain a bare simmer.

Add oregano, and stir to incorporate.

Simmer until the beans attain a thick soup consistency, around 30 minutes, and longer if you wish.

just prior to service, add the cilantro and the lemon zest, and squeeze in the juice from the roasted lemon half – stir to incorporate.

Charro beans in all their glory

Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.

Buen provecho!

Sambal – Indonesian Rocket Fuel

There’s a reasonable argument, I believe, that the chile, (or chillie, chili, or pepper), rivals the tomato for the most widespread crop to have originated in South America and Mexico. Numbers-wise, worldwide tomato cultivation dwarfs that of chiles at something like 3:1, but try to tell me that chiles aren’t far more integral to the soul of more cuisines around the globe, and I’ll beg to differ. Tomatoes are there, yes, but chiles are the heartbeat. If you have even a scrap of Chile Head predilection, discovering and playing with the almost endless permutations of spicy condiments is a constant delight – A little known bastion of such stuff, (at least here in the US), is called sambal – also know as Indonesian rocket fuel.

Sambal is truly ubiquitous in Indonesian cuisine, (the word is borrowed from the Malayan sambel, meaning condiment.) There are over 40 widely popular varieties, and far more personal riffs on those – There are tens of thousands of islands in the Indonesian archipelago, and damn near every one has their own sambal. Chiles are the heartbeat of sambal, mixed with everything from shallots and scallions to shrimp paste and tamarind. The consistency ranges from thin to ketchup-like sauces, and relishes to pastes. Heat profiles go from delicate to fire breathing, and everything in between. There’s a delightful range of all the basic five flavor notes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. Sambals are woven into favorite dishes from fresh veggies to fish, chicken, beef, and various soups and stews.

Chiles have a long history in Indonesia, likely introduced by the Portuguese as early as the 16th century. Indonesians were already familiar with some sense of heat zing, through black pepper and ginger. Chiles, with their admirably higher voltage, were a big hit right off the boat.

Traditionally prepared with a stone mortar and pestle, (that look identical to a molcajete and tejolote, interestingly enough), sambal can be either raw or cooked. That choice is often made depending on whether a small batch is being made for immediate consumption, or a larger one for longer term use. Locals tend to insist on freshness, of course, so what you’ll get in a restaurant is likely to have been made either that day, or even right before your meal is served. As with any other wildly popular condiment, there are a bunch of commercially prepared options out there – If Indonesian home cooks sniff at that stuff and swear their home made is way better, they’re undoubtedly right – but they may well have a jar or two in their pantry as well.

Naturally, Indonesia boasts a raft of local chile varieties, including variants of the habanero (adyuma), birds eye (cabe rawit), cayenne (cabi merah), New Mexican (Lombok), naga jolokia (cabe taliwang), and many more. As their parent varieties suggest, these run the gamut from mild to nuclear. You can use the common substitutes for any of these. Birds eye chiles can be hard to find fresh, but are readily available dried, and reconstitute quickly.

Since there’s no truly logical way to present a few options to y’all, we’ll just go with the ones we like most. As always, you’re strongly encouraged to dig into the varieties and their accompanying dishes and branch out on your own. Indonesians eat sambal with almost anything, so it’s a guarantee there’s a world of great pairings out there for you.

NOTES: 

1. The first recipe, for Sambal Kecap Pedas, requires the signature sweet soy sauce of Indonesia, Kecap Manis (kuh-CHOP MAH-nees). That stuff is, all by itself, a widely popular dipping sauce and adjunct for many things, and it’s also super easy to make at home, so I provided a recipe for that as well.

2. As with everything, you should have some flexibility when the spirit moves you. Don’t worry if you don’t have ‘the right chile’ on hand – Use what you have and like for any or all of these recipes.

 

Kecap Manis (Sweet Soy Sauce)

2 Cups Dark Soy Sauce

1 Cup Palm Sugar (or Brown Sugar)

1/4 Cup Water

1/2” chunk fresh Ginger Root

1/4 Star Anise Pod

1/2” Cinnamon Stick (or 1/2 teaspoon ground)

1 fat clove fresh Garlic 

Peel, trim and mince garlic and ginger.

In a heavy sauce pan over medium heat, combine sugar and soy sauce. Whisk constantly to combine and dissolve sugar.

Once soy and sugar are fully combined, add water, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, and star anise.

Turn heat up to medium high, whisking steadily and bring the mixture to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer gently until sugar is fully dissolved and water has been completely absorbed, about 10 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and allow to cool.

Run the sauce through a single mesh strainer into a clean glass jar with an air tight lid.

Store refrigerated for up to 10 days.

Sambal Kecap Pedis - Fiery and sweet

Sambal Kecap Pedas – Spicy Sweet

This is a super simple, quick sambal, and it’s delicious

Note – It does require that Kecap Manis sweet soy sauce.

Good birds eye chiles are truly hot little dudes. The low end of the spectrum I listed has a notable, but not debilitating mouth burn, while the high end will cure your sinus issues – adjust accordingly.

2-3 fresh Scallions (shallots are more traditional, so feel free to use them if you prefer)

24-48 Birds Eye Chiles

4-6 Tablespoons Kecap Manis

If you’re using dried birds eye chiles, set them in a non-reactive dish and cover them with very hot water. Allow them to steep until soft and fully reconstituted, about 15 minutes.

Reconstituted Birds Eye chiles - Small But mighty

Peel and end trim scallions, then slice very thinly, (if you have a mandoline, (the kitchen toy, not the instrument), this is the time to get that in play.)

Remove chiles from soaking water and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel, (and now do NOT pick your nose or rub your eyes…), and mince chiles.

Combine shallot and chiles in a non-reactive bowl and add 4 tablespoons of kecap manis – mix with a spoon, and add more sauce if you like things a bit thinner – what you want is a sort of chunky salsa consistency.

Allow the sambal to blend for at least 15-30 minutes before serving.

Commercial Sambal Oelek

Sambal Oelek 

This is the one you’re most likely to have seen in a jar at a store near you. It’s kinda like sriracha, but much more complex.

1/2 Pound Red Chiles, (Thai, or red jalapeño, New Mexican, cayenne, or serranos will do just fine)

2 fat cloves fresh Garlic

1 stalk Lemongrass

1” fresh Ginger Root

1 small Lime

1/4 Cup Cider Vinegar 

1 teaspoon Palm Sugar, (or brown)

Pinch Salt

Stem chiles and rough chop.

Peel, trim and mince garlic and ginger.

Peel, trim and rough chop just the white part of the lemon grass.

Zest lime and set fruit aside.

Add chiles, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass to a blender vessel and pulse to incorporate.

Add about half the vinegar and pulse, then repeat with the rest of the vinegar and pulse until you have a homogenous mix.

Add the puréed mix to a heavy sauce pan over medium high heat.

When the mixture begins to boil, reduce heat to a simmer.

Add sugar, lime zest, a quarter of a lime worth of juice, and a pinch of salt, whisk to incorporate.

Cook until the sugar is fully dissolved, about 2-3 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Transfer to a clean glass jar with an airtight lid.

Will last up to a week refrigerated, (but it probably won’t last that long, it’s delicious!)

Roasted Sambal Lado Mudo

Roasted Sambal Lado Mudo

This is my swing on what is arguably the most famous Padang sambal, and it’s a winner – It’s traditionally made with green tomatoes, but I love it with tomatillos – Call it fusion if you like…

You can see from my images that I used what I had for chiles, and let me assure you, it was spectacular.

10-12 long green Chiles (New Mexican or Hatch are perfect – Pick your preferred heat level.)

3-4 large Shallots (You can use scallions, white, or yellow onion too, if that’s what you’ve got)

4-5 large Tomatillos

1 small Lime

1 fat clove fresh Garlic

8-12 drops Red Boat Fish Sauce

Pinch of Salt

Pinch of Sugar

Stem chiles, peel and trim shallots and garlic, peel and stem tomatillos.

Cut all that stuff in half, as well as the lime.

Arrange chiles, shallots, garlic, tomatillos and lime on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Set oven on Broil, and position a rack in the upper middle zone.

Roast the veggies until the skins are blistered, turning once for even cooking, about 7-10 minutes total.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.

Toss everything into a blender vessel and squeeze the juice from the half lime in as well.

Pulse until you have a nice, chunky consistency. 

Add 3 drops of fish sauce, pinch of salt and sugar and pulse to incorporate.

Taste and adjust fish sauce, salt, sugar and lime as desired.

Transfer to a clean glass jar with an air tight lid. Will store refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Sambal Lado Mudo - Green heat

Asinan – Sweet And Sour Cucumber Salad

Goes great with a Indonesian inspired meal.

For the Salad

1 large, fresh Cucumber

1 small sweet Onion

1 Chile (jalapeño or Serrano goes well if you like heat)

5-6 stalks Cilantro

For the Dressing

4 Tablespoons Lime Juice

3 Tablespoons Avocado Oil

1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil

1 Tablespoon Kecap Manis (Sweet Soy Sauce)

1/2 teaspoon ground Ginger

1/2 teaspoon Granulated Garlic

1/2 teaspoon Hot Chile Oil

Rinse, peel and slice cucumber, half the onion, and the chile into thin rounds, (again, if you’ve got a mandoline, get it in play).

Fold the cilantro stocks over a few times, bundle that tightly, and slice through the bundle to get a nice fine cut.

Transfer cuke, onion, chile, and cilantro into a serving bowl and toss to combine.

Mix all dressing ingredients in a cruet or small jar and shake to incorporate.

Dress the salad lightly and allow it to sit and marinate, refrigerated for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Spring Cleaning Your Freezer

For 25 points, identify the following protein:

Didn’t think so…

Spring is the perfect time for deep cleaning. Shaking off the dust and cold and mold of winter, letting fresh air in – We do it to our homes, (hopefully), and we need to do it to our freezers as well.

Whether you’ve got just a small one attached to your fridge, or a stand alone unit, it’s time to thoroughly clean that beast, inventory what’s there with a critical eye, toss what needs to be tossed and cook what must be cooked before that too goes to the great beyond.

This line of reasoning naturally brooks the question, “Can food go bad in the freezer?” The answer to which is a definite ‘Yup!’

Keep in mind that freezing does not kill bacteria, yeast, mold, etc –  it just pretty much keeps them from multiplying. If there was something funky present prior to freezing, it could indeed reappear when thawed. Additionally, freezing does not do any favors for food quality or taste – over time, great stuff will become good and good stuff becomes that image up yonder.

Before we abandon the ‘how long’ question for the stuff in the freezer, let’s review – When does quality starts to degrade? That depends on what it is, and how well it was packaged, frankly. For answers to this and other freezer questions, hop on over to the USDA’s Food Safety site and read for yourself. You’ll also find the National Center For Home Food Preservation a wealth of good info, so scope that out too.

In general terms, anything that looks like the image above – an obvious victims of freezer burn due to poor packaging, needs to go. If flesh looks substantially different than it usually does when thawed, (Darker, off color, dried out, etc), then you should give it the heave ho. Trust me when I say if it looks funky, it’ll taste funky, and it could well be dangerous.

When you package for freezing, head back to the NCHFP site and read up on best practices.

The time to clear out your freezer is also the time to clean the bugger; this should be done at least annually, (and twice is better yet.) The best time do the deed is when stocks are low – AKA, the end of winter.

Pull everything out and put it into a fridge or cooler(s) while you clean.

Turn off, unplug, and thoroughly defrost your unit.

Once it’s to room temp, clean the insides thoroughly; I like Clorox cleanup for the job, but dish soap and water works fine too. Remove and clean all the shelves, racks, drawers, etc as well.

Do a rinse wipe with a solution of 2 Tablespoons of baking soda to a quart of warm water, then wipe that down with a clean, dry cloth.

Don’t forget the unseen parts! Pull the freezer from it’s normal locale and clean underneath. Inspect the back and clean that as well, (And the top), and dust the coils if your unit has exposed ones.

If you don’t already have one, buy a decent but cheap inside-the-unit thermometer and place in an easy to see spot. Our commercial units have thermometers on them, usually digital, but we don’t trust those; every unit, reach in or walk in, has a stand alone thermometer inside it.

Optimal freezer temp for food storage is -15ºF to -5ºF; it should never go above 15ºF for any extended length of time.

Fire ‘er back up, let it get fully cold and then put your bounty back in. And don’t forget to mark your calendar for the same time next year.

OK, that about covers it – now go have a celebratory beer or two, you deserve it.

Huaraches – Fantastic Mexican Street Food!

When you read that we’re making huaraches, you’d be forgiven if you thought we’re talking footwear – This version, however, is fantastic Mexican street food, so trust me when I tell you they taste a bunch better than shoe leather – Huaraches are drop dead delicious and really fun to make.

Loaded Huaraches - Street food bliss!

Huaraches are a thin corn cake stuffed with refried beans and topped with whatever you like. They reportedly originated at a Mexico City street stand in the 1930s, invented by Mrs. Carmen Gomez Medina. Legend has it that she initially offered tlacoyos, which are in essence identical to huaraches, just shaped more like an American football than a Mexican sandal. Either way, it’s hard to miss with that equation, right?

Huaraches are still plenty popular in Mexico City, as well as the rest of Mexico. For that matter, in any US city with a decent Mexican-American population, somebody is offering them from a cart, truck, or hole in the wall eatery – Just as it should be. The name probably derives from the Nahuatl word for sandals – kwarachi.

This is another perfect dish for dealing with leftovers. Anything from pico de gallo to potatoes, fresh or pickled veggies, leftover proteins, or just a dusting of good cheese will do the trick. If you’re planning for them, you can go wild and chase down fresh choriso, queso añejo, and nopales to add to the mix. Huaraches are plenty hardy as a main dish, or can be cut up for appetizers, as you please.

The originals were stuffed with black beans, but any bean you have on hand will most definitely do. If you’re dealing with really high quality legumes, (like Rancho Gordo), nothing other than mashed or puréed beans and a pinch of salt is required to make them special. If inspiration strikes when what you have readily available are canned beans, that’s OK – As long as you give them some love, they’ll work just fine. I’ve included a recipe for doctored beans that will do the trick.

Forming huaraches is easiest with a tortilla press. If you love tacos and eat them a lot, you deserve fresh corn tortillas and a decent press – a good one can be had for under twenty bucks. They’re fun to form by hand too, so fear not if a rolling pin is what you’ve got to work with.

I’ve included a recipe for our killer salsa verde, which goes particularly well with huaraches. Again, this is a dish that’s perfect for leftovers, so just pull out what you’ve got, wing it, and enjoy.

Beans for huaraches

Doctored Beans

1 Cup cooked Beans

3/4 Cup Chicken or Veggie Stock

1 clove fresh minced Garlic

2 Tablespoons fine diced fresh Onion

1-2 Tablespoons fine diced Jalapeño Chile

2-3 sprigs minced Cilantro

2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil

Pinch Salt

if using canned beans, pour them into a single mesh strainer and rinse thoroughly under cold running water until all traces of the liquid they’re packed in are gone.

In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, heat the oil through. 

Add the onion and chile. Sauté, stirring, until the onion begins to turn translucent, about 2 minutes.

Add garlic and sauté until the raw smell dissipates.

Add beans, chicken stock, cilantro, and salt, stir to incorporate.

When the beans start to boil, reduce temp to a bare simmer. 

Simmer beans for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the liquid is almost gone – then remove from heat.

Beans can be mashed with a fork or spud masher and left rustic. If you prefer things really smooth, they can be puréed in a blender. If you go the latter road, add a little more stock as needed to help everything blend properly. You want them thick but spreadable, so whichever version you make, use more stock to thin things out if needed when you’re ready to fill huaraches.

Mashed beans, perfect for huaraches

Roasted Salsa Verde

1 1/2 Pounds fresh, ripe Tomatillos, (about 8-10 good sized ones).

1/2 large yellow Onion

1-3 fresh Jalapeño or Serrano Chiles

1-2 large cloves fresh Garlic

1/2 Cup fresh Cilantro

1 small fresh Lime 

Pinch Salt

NOTE: ‘Field stripping’ chiles means to stem, seed, and devein. If you really like heat, then you can disregard the deseed and devein steps.

Pull off the papery husks from the tomatillos and rinse them thoroughly. Cut them in half.

If you want milder chiles, cut them in half and field strip them – if not, just stem and cut in half.

Cut onion and half and peel, (the other half can go in the fridge).

Peel and trim garlic, but leave cloves whole.

Cut lime in half, put half back in the fridge.

fresh veggies day to roast for salsa verde

Place all that onto a baking sheet, cut side down under a broiler, with the rack set on an upper, (but not the highest), slot.

Let everything broil until the skins of the tomatillos, tomato, and chiles have blistered, then flip them all and let things work on the back side – Total cooking time will be about 12-15 minutes.

When the tomatillos are bubbling nicely, and the insides are soft when pressed with a fork, pull the baking sheet out and let everything cool for a few minutes.

roasted veggies ready to make salsa verde

Rough chop cilantro.

Toss tomatillos, tomato, chiles, onion, garlic, cilantro, and a pinch of salt into a blender vessel. Squeeze the lime juice in with everything else.

Purée in the blender until you have a nice, even consistency. Taste and adjust lime and salt as desired.

Fresh roasted Salsa Verde

Pour into a non-reactive jar or bowl, cover and chill until ready for use. This recipe makes about a quart of finished salsa. Tightly covered in clean glass, it’ll last for about a week refrigerated.

 

Huaraches de UrbanMonique

2 Cups Masa Harina

1 Cup mashed or puréed Beans

1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

1 Cup + 2-3 Tablespoons Hot Water

1 teaspoon Salt

In a large mixing bowl, add masa, salt, and 1 cup of hot water. Knead by hand until the dough is fully incorporated – It should not stick to your hands, but should feel moist – It will feel almost like play dough when it’s right – Add that extra tablespoon or two of water as needed to get there. When all is well, cover with a clean damp cloth and let the dough rest for 15 minutes – This allows the masa to fully absorb the water, and keeps your final product from drying out.

Always cover resting masa!

Set up your mis en place – Masa, press or rolling pin, beans, and skillet.

Check your dough – If it feels like it’s dried out some, (which it probably will), add a tablespoon of water and knead that in – You want a feel like a soft cookie dough, but not sticky.

Pinch off some dough and roll it into a ball about the size of a large egg.

masa balls ready to press

Put a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, add 1/4 cup avocado oil, and allow it to heat through, (if it starts to smoke, turn it down a bit).

Preheat your oven to warm, and set a rack in the middle position with a baking sheet lined with parchment.

If you’re using a press, cut waxed paper or parchment to more or less fit the plates – If you’re rolling, just a couple chunks about 8” long will do nicely, (if you still use plastic in your kitchen, what you really want it the sides of a gallon ziplock bag cut into big circles – That’s the most forgiving and easy release option.)

Alright, here comes the fun part. Grab a dough ball and squeeze it into an egg shape. 

Making fresh huaraches!

Use your thumb to press deeply into the middle of the egg, forming an egg-long, wide trough – The egg lengthens a bit as you do this, so it kinda looks like a little canoe now.

Making fresh huaraches!

Add about a tablespoon of beans to fill the trough, then gently pinch up the edges of the canoe to surround and seal in the beans. You’ll get a bit of filling slopping over, so just wipe that off and proceed. 

Making fresh huaraches!

Once it’s sealed, use your palms to roll that canoe into a log about 5” long.

Making fresh huaraches!

Making fresh huaraches!

Now you’re ready to either press or roll – These will end up as oblongs, vaguely sandal shaped beasties about 6” long and 4” or so wide – It’s not an exact thing, so don’t fret, (and as you can see, mine weren’t picture perfect!) Just have fun with it, and know that the more you do, the better you get – They’re going to be delicious, and that’s what counts.

Making fresh huaraches!

Making fresh huaraches!

You want to fry these as soon as they’re pressed or rolled. Handle them carefully. Peel the top parchment off, and flip the thing so the huarache is on your hand. Now carefully peel the other parchment off and slip the goods into the hot pan.

Fry for about a minute or so, then flip it and do the other side for a minute and a half to two minutes – You want a nice golden brown to that second side.

Your first huaraches probably won’t be pretty, but they will be delicious!

Transfer the cooked huarache to the baking sheet in the oven and move on to the next one.

Huarache toppings - Whatever you got!

Toppings are whatever you desire and have on hand. A quick pickled mix of radish and sweet onion, fresh chiles, onion, or cilantro. Thinly sliced cabbage, crumbly Mexican cheese, fresh tomato, avocado, more lime wedges, the salsa verde of course. Leftover chicken, beef, or pork is dandy, and again, fresh chorizo is a delight.

Fresh chorizo is never a bad idea

These go great with cold Mexican beer, great friends, and lively conversation!

Never Toss Those Parmesan Rinds!

Let’s talk about Parmigiano-Reggiano, or more specifically, the rinds therefrom. Why? Because Monica saves them, and frankly, while you might think she’s being extra OCD, you’d be wrong. Right after she pointed out that I get most of my good ideas from her, (OK, that might be true…), she noted, ‘we pay twenty something bucks a pound for that stuff – I’m not throwing that away!’ She’s right, folks – Never toss those Parmesan rinds.

Parmigiano-Reggiano, the King of Cheese

We should probably start with a bit of definition, since there are variables out there. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a cows milk Italian hard cheese. If it’s to be called P-R, then it has to have aged for at least 2 years before you got it, (and sometimes longer – Stravecchio is 3 years old, and stravecchiones is a 4 year old). Real deal Parmigiano-Reggiano comes only from Parma, Bologna, Mantua, or Modena, and the words ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano’ are clearly stenciled onto the outer rind of each wheel of cheese. That P-R name, as well as the anglicized version, ‘Parmesan,’ are protected turf across Europe, per Italian DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) laws. 

Parmigiano-Reggiano aging

Here in the U.S., Parmesan does not enjoy that protected status, so it can come from just about anywhere. That’s not to say that all non Parmigiano-Reggiano is crap – There are some American makers creating very good cheese indeed. One caveat though – Don’t ever buy anything labeled Parmesan that’s already been grated – That’s like buying your coffee pre-ground, and it’s a major no no – it’s virtually guaranteed that the expected depth and intensity of flavor will not be there.

Real deal Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds - Never toss ‘em!

Since we’re talking cooking with rinds here, no genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that I’m aware of has a waxed rind, but some other Parmesan varieties do, so caveat coquus, (cooks beware, I think…) It’s easy to tell if a rind is waxed or not, just scrape it with a paring knife if you can’t tell by sight alone.

As for those genuine rinds, I assure you, they’re 100% edible. If you’ve got a really fine grater plate, or a micro plane, you have all you need to enjoy them. Fact is, all the stuff you dig about Parmigiano-Reggiano is intensified in that crustal zone – The umami, the intensely savory flavor notes, the whole shebang – so wasting that really is criminal, let alone costly.

The simplest, and some of the most deliciously effective uses for P-R rinds is to toss a couple or three into any low and slow dish you think might benefit. Everything from all day bolognese and minestrone, to stew or house made stock will benefit greatly. The rinds will soften and release that legendary flavor profile slowly but surely. You can toss the rinds after you’ve used them in this manner, or give them a nosh, as you please, (they’re still edible of course, but they do get pretty played out after hours of work like that). Oh, and your kitchen will smell fabulous when you do this, too.

A rind or two in a pot of rice, wild rice, or beans will work its magic there as well. Again, it’ll bring a notable boost in umami, a distinct mouth feel, as well as that amazing flavor palette, and it’s lovely.

Parmigiano-Reggiano rind oil - Heady stuff!

How about throwing a few rinds cut skinny into a jar and topping them with olive or avocado oil? You’ll get a nice, subtle taste that’s great when mixed with balsamic vinegar for a bread dip, or as a constituent of a fresh vinaigrette.

Parm-Reg rind puffs - Seriously tasty

If you don’t mind microwaves, there’s a great trick from the folks at P-R – Parmigiano-Reggiano crispy cheese rind puffs. They’re a gas to make and they are seriously heavenly little snacks. Chomp on them straight, or cut them into cubes to garnish soup, stew, or a salad.

prepping Parm-Reg rind puffs

Cut a rind or three into strips about 3/4” wide, 1/8” thick and around 3” long.

Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the base or carousel of your microwave.

prepping Parm-Reg rind puffs

Place three pieces of rind on the parchment, and set your micro for 45 seconds on high power, (this if for a oven around 1,100 watts, so your time may vary depending on what kinda power you got).

The rinds will go through a very slick cooking process, puffing up quickly and substantially. Be careful with this stuff – Molten cheese is half velcro, half lava and it will do your skin serious harm!

Parm-Reg rind puffs - Seriously tasty

Carefully pull the parchment with rinds onboard out of the oven, then slide the rinds onto a cooling rack. 

Let them sit for a few minutes to cool out of the molten phase and firm up some.

You’re now in business – You can cut them into croutons, leave them as strips, and go wild – Be forewarned, they’re seriously addictive.

Don’t like microwaves? You can achieve pretty much the same end, albeit without the cool puffing up, by toasting rinds over a gas flame or in your broiler – They’re not quite as sexy as the puffs, but they’re every bit as delicious.

Toasted Parmesan rinds make great snacks, or croutons

If you have a gas stove, cut a hunk of rind to about 1/2” thick, and maybe 3/4” wide and a couple inches long. Spear it with a fork on the cheesy side, and gently toast it over a flame, (over, not in), until it’s nice and golden brown. 

Let them cool, then you can chow down, or cut them into croutons, etc.

If you use a broiler, place rinds cheesy side down on metal foil and cook until golden brown.

So there you go, courtesy of M, you now have a bunch of cool and delicious options for those rinds, and you’ve given your kids something new to shake their heads at when they’re rooting around in the fridge.

It’s Time to Riff on Gazpacho

Wait – is this yet another post that stems from somebody asking, ‘have you covered this,’ to which I answer, ‘Definitely,’ only to find that the true answer is, ‘sort of, and very obliquely?’ Yes, yes it is – Therefore, it’s time to riff on Gazpacho.

Gazpacho is often considered a strictly summer dish, although it needn’t be so. A cold, veggie-based soup makes a great side for something heavy like smoked meats, a hot bean dish – anything for which a cool, tart sip would make a nice counterpoint or palate cleanser.

Gazpacho is wholly embraced as Spanish in origin, and may well be, although the roots likely go deeper than that. Rome overran Spain roughly 2,200 years ago, and brought with them, among other things, a gruel or mush made predominantly of bread and oil – and the Latin word ‘caspa,’ a reference to breadcrumbs, and the likely root of ‘gazpacho’. Like all great dishes there are now variants from all over the globe, but the Spanish and Portuguese versions are still the most well known.

Gazpacho Andaluz - The one you’re probably thinking of

The gazpacho you’re likely familiar is Andalusian in origin – that rich orange-red tomato based stuff, redolent of garlic, fresh veggies, and good olive oil. Fact is, this variant didn’t show up until very late in the development of the dish. For literally millennia, it was more likely a close mirror to the original (and relatively boring), Roman version. What made it what it is today is the garlic and almonds from Central Asia, olives from Greece, cucumbers from India, brought to España by the Romans and the Moors. Add tomatoes, tomatillos, avocados and chiles from Mexico and South America hauled home by Spanish and Portuguese conquerors, and that’s the magic that converted the mundane into the sublime. 

Gazpacho Verde - All about New World flavors

There are many variations on the central gazpacho theme – Red, green, and white, smooth or chunky, mild or fiery, some more like salsa than soup, and all are delightful. Not all variants are purely veggie based – Everything from almonds to watermelon and green grapes may find their way into the mix. Fish or meat get in there too, as with Mexican gazpacho ceviche, or Portuguese versions loaded with local ham.

Some Gazpacho variants are more like Pico de Gallo than soup

Traditionally, whatever is to go in the mix is rough chopped and tossed into a large vessel, then pounded with a mortar, strained, and deseeded. Nowadays, a blender or food processor is more often employed. The old ways are preferred by those who insist that a completely smooth and even consistency is contrary to the spirit of the dish and frankly, and I kind of agree – Enough so to approve of using modern methods, but leaving things a bit more on the rustic side, at any rate.

Gazpacho Blanco - Ancient and sublime

While the vast majority of gazpachos are served cold, that doesn’t mean that you can’t heat up the ingredients a bit – Roasting, grilling, or broiling veggies intensifies their flavors and deepens sweetness – That can be a thing to try with just an ingredient or two, or the lion’s share, as you please. Gazpacho is a perfect vehicle for home gardens, when you are looking at your yield and wondering what you can do with all that, as well as a great thing to do with stuff that has to get out of the fridge and go to work before it goes bad, (and if things are kind of on their last legs, roasting may be just the ticket.)

Here’s a few basics to get you going, then you should branch out and make them yours.

Gazpacho Andaluz – I’ve been making this version since the late ‘60s, when a Spanish friend of my mom’s showed me the ropes.

4-5 ripe Tomatoes.

1 Cucumber.

1 medium Bell Pepper, (Red, orange, or yellow, as you like, or that needs to get used)

1-3 cloves fresh Garlic.

2 thick slices Bread, (something with a dense crumb, dried out overnight)

1/3 cup extra virgin Olive Oil.

2 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar.

1 Cup Vegetable Stock

Fine grind kosher Salt, fresh ground Pepper, and ground Chile to taste.

If you want to roast, grill, or char your veggies, do that first, and then allow them to cool to room temperature.

Remove crusts from bread and toss into a bowl just big enough for the slices. Cover with the veggie stock and allow that to soak for 15 to 20 minutes.

Peel, core, seed and rough chop tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and garlic. Throw all those into a blender or processor and pulse just to get them incorporated. 

Grab your bread and squeeze it into a ball as hard as you can. 

Pour off the stock into a measuring cup, in case you need some further on in the process.

Crumble the bread back into the bowl, then add the oil and vinegar. Mix well to fully incorporate.

Slowly add the bread/oil/vinegar blend to the veggie mix while pulsing the blender or processor on low until you get the consistency you like – You want a nice, relatively thick soup that will coat a spoon, but you can leave that mix on the rustic side, or go all the way to a purée, as you wish.

If your mix is too thick, thin it out by pulsing in a little more stock.

You can go with the gazpacho as is, or, if you really want things smooth, pour it into a single mesh strainer and carefully force the soup through with your fingers.

Place soup in a glass bowl or container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to overnight.

When you’re ready to eat, taste the gazpacho and then season minimally with salt and pepper. Provide more of those, plus fine ground chiles, at the table.

Serve with additional garnishes that float your boat – Chopped dry cured chorizo, Jamon Iberico, hard-boiled egg, cilantro, diced tomato, cucumber, onion or shallot, chiles or sweet peppers, pico de gallo, celery leaf, chives, fresh mustard greens, any quick pickled veggie blend you like, sour cream or crema, are all wonderful.

Gazpacho Verde

4 large Tomatillos

4 Green Onions (Scallions)

1 Green Bell Pepper

1 English Hothouse Cucumber

2 Green Chiles (New Mexican, anaheim, jalapeño, or serrano – i.e. heat level as you prefer)

2 cloves fresh Garlic

1 Cup Greek Yogurt

1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

1/4 Cup Veggie Stock

1/4 Cup Cider Vinegar

2 thick slices Bread, (something with a dense crumb, dried out overnight)

1 fresh Lime

Fine ground Kosher Salt 

Freshly ground Pepper

Ground Piment d’Espelette chile 

If you want to roast, grill, or char your veggies, do that first, and then allow them to cool to room temperature.

Husk, stem, and quarter tomatillos.

Stem, seed and rough chop pepper and chiles.

smash, peel, trim, and mince garlic.

Trim and rough chop green onions.

Slice cuke in half, deseed, then rough chop.

Zest and juice lime.

Remove crusts from bread and tear into roughly 1” pieces.

In a large, non-reactive mixing bowl, add lime zest, 2 tablespoons juice, the vinegar, the yogurt, and the avocado oil. Whisk until fully incorporated.

Add the tomatillos, green onions, chiles, cuke, garlic, and bread to the mix and stir to thoroughly coat the bread.

Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

When you’re ready to eat, add the mix to a blender in workable batches and blend until smooth as you prefer – You want a nice, relatively thick soup that will coat a spoon, but you can leave that mix on the rustic side, or go all the way to a purée, as you wish.

Taste the soup and season lightly with salt and pepper. Provide more, and the ground chile, at the table.

Serve with additional garnishes that float your boat – Chopped dry cured chorizo, Jamon Iberico, hard-boiled egg, cilantro, diced tomato, cucumber, onion or shallot, chiles or sweet peppers, pico de gallo, celery leaf, chives, fresh mustard greens, any quick pickled veggie blend you like, sour cream or crema, are all wonderful.

Gazpacho Blanco

1 Cup blanched Marcona Almonds (Must be soaked overnight!)

1 Cup cold Water

1/4 Cup extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 thick slices Bread, (something with a dense crumb, dried out overnight)

1 Apple (Pink lady, honey crisp, crips pink are good options – You want a really juicy one)

1 clove fresh Garlic

1-2 teaspoons Sherry Vinegar

Fine ground kosher salt

Seedless Green Grapes to garnish

Place almonds in a mixing bowl and cover with at least 2” of fresh water. Allow them to soak overnight.

Pour almonds into a single mesh strainer.

Remove crusts from bread and tear into roughly 1” pieces.

Peel, trim, smash and mince garlic.

Peel, core, and chop apple.

Toss bread into a blender vessel and add the water, making sure the bread is covered. Allow that to soak for 15-20 minutes.

Add almonds, apple, and garlic to the blender vessel.

Pile the mix until thoroughly blended and smooth.

Taste and season lightly with salt and vinegar (add vinegar 1/2 teaspoon at a time).

Add the olive oil in a slow, smooth stream while blending the soup on low.

Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Chill for at least 2 hours prior to serving, and up to overnight.

Top with sliced green grapes, if you like, (you will).

It’s Time to Talk About Kitchen Waste

One of the greatest challenges we face in the world is food waste. Yeah, we hear about it most when it’s colossal, like from countries, or major grocery and restaurant chains, but fact is, it’s every bit as pervasive and problematic right here at home, in our own kitchens. It’s time to talk about kitchen food waste, and act on that.

Dive into food waste numbers just for the USA, and prepare to be seriously bummed out. Overall percentage of what’s produced – 40%. 20% of what goes into landfills. According to a NRDC study in 2015, American households tossed $165 billion worth – That’s billion with a B – or roughly $2,200 per household. Worldwide, the figure is around 1.3 billions tons and $990 billion annually. Sobering figures to say the least. When you hear that the biggest problem with feeding the world isn’t the ability to grow it, it’s pretty much true.

What’s to be done then? Obviously those figures are completely unsustainable. While it might seem like little ol’ us are such a drop in the bucket that we couldn’t possibly alter those numbers, I beg to differ – Understanding the nature and magnitude of the problem is the first step. Every little bit helps, and frankly, we can fairly easily do more than just a little bit at home – That’s important not just to help stop wasting food, but to buoy our pocket books and consciences too.

Battling food waste is huge in the restaurant business, (is if you want to stay in business in any event). We track it closely, in order to construct a viable and effective plan to keep the numbers down. Recording waste lets us study things a bit and decide where the problem lies – That might be how much we order or prep, or a mistaken assumption about how much of what we’ll sell. Waste can also stem from over-portioning, or improper storage – There’s a lot to think about, but once you get a good system in place, it becomes a lot easier to manage.

Considering those figures on average waste are in tons and thousands of dollars per American household, I don’t think there’s any question about the importance of having a plan and system in place at home, is there? Same answer comes to mind for the question of whether or not the additional effort is worthwhile – If you didn’t cook at home a lot and care about that, you wouldn’t be here. What then is a viable and effective plan to help reduce food waste for the home cook?

Always shop with a list, and review it before you go.

First thing that comes to mind is how much perishable food we buy, and how often. For the former, we really need to plan our shopping, and not do any significant part of that willy nilly. Having a realistic shopping list, one based on what your household will actually in all likelihood eat in the period you’re shopping for, is key. Secondly, sticking to that list, (and never shopping when you’re hungry), is equally important – Impulse buying does no one any good.

A shopping list is a living thing, usually composed over several days. When it comes time to head to the store, a review is in order, to determine not just if you missed something, but also if there are things there you don’t really need – Especially when the items in question are perishable. If you love to cook and are always looking for new things to try, it’s easy to think you’ll make that crying tiger beef this weekend and then buy a bunch of stuff to do just that – If life then intrudes, you may well be left with things that end up getting tossed.

When you shop, you absolutely must pay attention and be picky, picky, picky. When I go, I see maybe a couple people other than me who are really and truly checking things out – Squeezing, inspecting, sniffing, and rejecting anything that doesn’t look spot on – checking packaging and expirations dates, (and that pickiness includes not buying something you wanted if there just aren’t any good ones that day.) Fact is, very few shoppers do that – Most folks grab whatever and take it home, and frankly, whatever usually goes bad really quickly. You get what you pay for, and if you’re assuming all produce, proteins, dairy, and other perishables are on equal footing, you’re being a pretty clueless shopper.

Same goes for meal planning. Avoiding waste means not buying for, or cooking far too much, for your household to reasonably use before it spoils. Yes, leftovers can and should be refrigerated or frozen whenever possible, but far too many fridges and freezers are filled with things that sit there until they are eventually thrown out – Be realistic about what you can, like to, and really will eat. As we advocate around here, plan meals around judicious and inspired use of leftovers – A single chicken used wisely is two or three great meals for a small family.

How many folks are you really cooking for?

The concepts from that last paragraph are especially important for us empty nesters – We had kids and grandkids over for dinner last night, and prepared what was easily two to three times the normal amount of food we’d do up for a Sunday night as a result – That’s fine if it’s going to get eaten and/or sent home with the kids – but not so much if it’s happening several nights a week because we’ve forgotten that, these days, it’s just the two of us. Always keep in mind who you’re cooking for on a day to day basis.

Specialized produce containers really do a good job

How we store perishables, especially fruits, veggies, and proteins, is potentially a huge contributor to excessive food waste. Bags, plastic or natural, and most crisper drawers, do a fairly shitty job of maintaining fruits and veggies. Of course the first line of defense is knowing what should be in a fridge and what shouldn’t, (potatoes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, shallot, bananas and most citrus fruit don’t go in the fridge.)

We’ve researched a bunch of storage options, especially for veggies since they tend to go bad so quickly, and found that glass or rigid plastic containers with tight fitting lids do a great job for most things, while specialized containers for lettuce, cabbage and the like do an amazing job – We’ve extended the shelf life of a lot of things from 2 or 3 days to 10+ just by using the right container, as you can see from some of the images here in. Yes, they’re plastic in some cases, but they’re not even close to single use.

Specialized lettuce containers really do a good job

Realistic consideration of what you will cook in the next few days should dictate what gets refrigerated and what gets frozen. A lot of food gets wasted because we violate that rule. Expensive proteins, from beef to firm tofu, need to be scheduled for cooking, and that schedule stuck to – If you can’t or don’t, wrap them properly and freeze them well before they go bad, (and mark the packages for date and content.)

The Freezer - Know what’s in there, and when it arrived

Yes, clearly marking what something is and when it got stored is critical. Everything in a restaurant gets FIFOd, (First In, First Out rotation), and our home fridges and freezers shouldn’t be any different. As for marking what they are, if you’re seriously thinking about trying to tell me that you don’t have, right now, containers in both appliances that you have no clear idea of the contents or age of, I’ll call bullshit on y’all. freezers need to be emptied, inventoried, and thoroughly cleaned at least twice a year, too – See our post on that.

Look this essay over and you’ll realize there’s really not that much here, and certainly not much that’s genuinely revelatory – Tackling a food waste reduction program at home is no more difficult than reading about it, frankly. That said, common sense goes a long way in the kitchen, just as it does in life, right?

Arepas, the signature corn cake of Columbia and Venezuela

Before us anglos brought big love for wheat to the Americas, corn was the undisputed king of the cereals, (the grass family grains like wheat, corn, rice, millet, rye and a raft of others.) So it may surprise Norte Americanos to learn that corn still rules. While American wheat cultivation is less than 8% of world production, we grow slightly over 37% of the world’s corn – Far more than than all of South America. When it comes to cooking delicious things with corn however, (and despite our contributions of corn bread and hush puppies), Mexico and South America got it all over us for the tastiest goods – From tortillas and tamales to gorditas and pupusas, there’s a bunch of wonderful stuff down there. Today, we’ll take a look at arepas, the signature corn cake of Columbia and Venezuela.

Arepas are plump little corn cakes that might be baked, fried, grilled, steamed, or boiled. They’re eaten plain or loaded with various fillings, depending on which meal they’re accompanying – Anything from beans to eggs and shrimp. They’re an old food, certainly pre-Spanish invasion – Archeologists have found the tools used to make them all over Columbia and Venezuela. The name Arepa most likely derived from the Caracas word erepa, meaning maize (corn). Their antiquity and tastiness makes them vitally important to the cuisines of both countries, and there’s serious rivalry as to where they might have originated. It’s a sad fact that, for the last few years, Venezuelans have been largely denied this staple of their diet due to the country’s serious economic woes.

Ridiculously simple in ingredients and construction, arepas are nothing more than corn flour, salt, a little oil, and water, mixed by hand and then cooked – That’s it. The only caveat is the kind of corn flour used. Trust me when I tell you that corn meal or plain old masa will not work. What you need is called masarepa, (or masa de arepa, harina precocida, or masa al instante). This is precooked corn flour, meant to make a delicious handful of regional dishes like arepas, hallacas, bollos, tamales, empanadas and chicha. As such, you’ll find it predominantly from makers in Columbia and Venezuela. Think of it like Wondra flour and you get the picture. 

For real arepas, ya gotta use masarepa

Traditional arepa flour was prepared by lengthy soaking of dried corn. The resulting mash was then pounded to remove the germ and shell. That stuff was subsequently boiled, ground finer, and made into arepas. The one major change in arepa making in the modern age is the industrialization of that whole process, (thank the Corn Gods). Masarepa is what you absolutely need to make these guys, and it’s widely available from your local Latin food store, or online. The brands Harina PAN, Goya, and Harina Juana all come from Venezuela, and Areparina from Columbia. Arepas are freakin’ seriously delicious, and the flour is not pricy – You’ll want this stuff in your pantry.

As mentioned, there are a bunch of ways these guys are made, but I’ll steer you to a dual process of frying and baking that’ll give you delicious, consistent results with a minimum of fuss. As you’ll see, the entire construction process is done by hand, as it’s always been done, and should be.

Quite a few online recipes recommend mixing white and yellow masarepa, which folks seem to feel provides a lighter texture and a more pleasant taste profile, but frankly, I’m not buying the claims – It appears almost all that sentiment stems from one restaurant that makes great deep fried arepas and shared their recipe – I don’t deep fry, and I like yellow just fine, so that’s what I use – you do what floats your boat. Our recipe isn’t really Venezuelan or Columbian, (although it leans toward the latter, which in general has far less fat than the former), but it will make a tasty arepa simply and quickly. You can research the traditional methods of each country on your own and explore later.

 

Arepas de UrbanMonique – Makes 6-8

2 Cups Water (warm to the touch, about 90° F)

2 Cups Yellow Masarepa

3 Tablespoons Avocado Oil 

1 packed teaspoon Salt

 

Preheat oven to 450° F and set a rack in the middle position. Make sure your oven is fully preheated before you load arepas into it.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, oil, and salt, and whisk to thoroughly dissolve the salt.

Hand mixing arepas

Add about 1/8 cup of masarepa to the salt and water and stir it in by hand – You’ll clearly feel the masarepa incorporate.

Hand mixing arepas

Continue gradually adding masarepa and kneading – When you get to roughly half way, the dough will morph from very liquid to something more substantial – this is when you want to slow down and allow the masarepa to fully absorb water. Continue until you’ve got almost or all the masarepa in the mix – you want a dough that feels quite moist, almost wet, but is easy to work with and will not stick to your bare hands. If your dough feels dry, add a little water and work it into the mix – And vice versa for adding more masarepa if it’s too wet. When the dough is right, it should not feel grainy, and it will ball up nicely.

Arepa dough should feel almost wet, but form a ball easily without sticking to your hands

Once you’ve reached that consistency, cover the bowl with a clean, dry kitchen towel and let it rest for 5 minutes.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, with 2 ounces or so of avocado oil therein.

After the rest, grab a handful of dough and roll it into a ball, then use your palms to form it into a patty roughly 1/2” and about 4” in diameter. Keep forming arepas until you’re out of dough.

Fry arepas for about 3 minutes a side before baking

When the skillet and oil are heated, add two or three arepas and fry them until they form a nice, golden crust – About 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Set the fried arepas on the lined baking sheet and slide them into the oven.

Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, until the arepas have risen slightly, and are a bit darker. When you think they’re done, slide the rack out and tap one in the center – If they sound kind of hollow, they’re done – I set my timer for 10 minutes to check, then let them go a bit longer as needed.

Tap baked arepas to see if they’re done

Transfer arepas to a cooling rack and let them rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing and going wild.

Almost anything is fair game for toppings, making arepas great for clearing out the fridge – Scrambled eggs, diced ham, pork, chicken, beans, cheese, tomato, onion, chiles, avocado, whatever floats your boat. For vegetarian and vegan folk, jack fruit done up with taco seasoning makes a killer meat substitute. that said, try one hot, with nothing at all, or maybe just a little butter. There’s a pure corn taste, a very satisfying chew, that really hits home.

Arepas have a delightfully pure taste and texture

If you have a good Latin market nearby, look for queso guayanes, paisa, or duro – If those aren’t available, queso cotija or fresco will work just fine.

If you want to prepare arepas and cook them later, they can hang in the fridge for a day or two and be OK – More than that and they’ll dry out. They can be frozen, uncooked, for up to 3 months as well.

Followers, Romans, Countrymen – Lend Me Your RRS…

So, we’ve had more than our share of technical bullshit lately, but I truly think we’re getting things ironed out this time…

The latest BS is getting new post notices to email to y’all as they should, with the post and/or link active therein. It’s been a bit of a battle, but we ARE making progress.

You just received an email with nothing but a logo and some boilerplate, that should not have gone out to everyone, but did, of course. Sorry about that!

Anyway, I’m told that, as of next Monday, April 1st, (no, I’m not fooling), at 8pm Eastern, 5 pm Pacific, the now weekly email with a genuine new post attached shall go out – We shall see, but I gotta believe.

Again, my apologies for all the hassles, but we’re getting it fixed and it soon will be on properly operating auto pilot.

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Carne Adobada – 100% Delicious

It’s impossible to say where exactly adobada, (or sometimes, adovada), comes from. Generally, it’s a safe bet that northern Mexico, past and present, is the source. Adobada in Catalan means marinated, which doesn’t give a whole bunch of clues at to what we’re supposed to marinate with. As it turns out, that’s OK though, because however you make it, carne adobada is 100% delicious.

Adobada is popular all over Mexico. In its simplest form, adobada marinade might just include red chiles (powdered or minced), vinegar, and Mexican oregano, while more involved iterations can approach mole in their complexity. It’s arguably most popular in the coastal states south of Puerta Vallarta – Jalisco, Colima, and Michoacan. There the chile power is likely to be a mix of guajillo, ancho, pasilla, or chipotles. Adobada is also wholly embraced by New Mexican cuisine. There, the chile in question will undoubtedly be New Mexican red, AKA Hatch, (varying in power from fairly mild to nuclear, depending upon one’s proclivities.)

Adobada rocket fuel

Back in the days before refrigeration, the cut up pork most commonly used for the dish might be tossed into a pot with the lactobacillus acidophilus that generates yoghurt. Doing so would aid in preservation, and impart a subtle sour note to the finished dish – That’s likely why modern iterations call for citrus or vinegar in the mix. Ditto for the reason most cooks prefer their adobada chiles con pellejo (with skins) – the chiles either blistered by roasting or, if using dried, toasted during the cooking process – This adds a subtle bitter note that many folks insist is absolutamente necesario for authentic taste.

Scorching dried chiles

Truth be told, a lot of marinating came into play because the meats it was working on were less than stellar in quality or condition, (and that’s still true in much of the world.) Here, where we’re privileged to have amazing proteins available pretty much any time, it’s done to add things to the mix, not hide them. Even if we’re building a complex palette of flavors, we want the true flavor of beef, pork, chicken, tofu, or beans to remain notable – That’s achieved by balance in the marinade, and paying attention to the way we cook.

look up adobada on a search engine and you’ll see myriad ways to cook suggested, or even insisted upon. What I believe is necessary is this – The finished product must have a distinct outer crust, almost burnt, (as you’d generate when making great chili or beef stew), while the inside of each chunk needs to be tender and juicy. While some places offer adobada that’s more like a stew, to me that’s just chile colorado – Another thing altogether, really.

Many cooks think there’s only one way to do this, (theirs), but it ain’t necessarily so – You can get there by stove top, or grill, or baking, as you please. For M2¢W, I think a multi-stage cook is in order. Specifically, a relatively low and slow primary cook, followed by a quick, hot seat just prior to serving. That is, in fact, what a fair share of restaurants that offer adobada as I’ve described do. It works great, and it gives you flexibility when you’re short on time.

Slow cooker adobada pork

You can do adobada with any protein you like, (and you should), but you aught to start with pork – That’s the holy grail of the dish. For that, you’ll want around 3 pounds of fresh, boneless shoulder. And for those of you who don’t eat meat, I’m here to tell you this will rock with fresh, firm tofu, or great beans.

So, what I’ll offer here is an amalgam of some Mexican and New Mexican ingredients and techniques that will deliver the goods, and it’s a gas to make too. With this marinade, you can go as long as overnight, but at the very least, let it bathe for a good 4 hours prior to cooking. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can certainly do this in a 325° F oven, (but why would you not have a slow cooker?)

The chiles I used were picked to feed the hybrid theme. None of them are particularly hot, because to me, this dish isn’t designed to burn your face off – It’s meant to provide a pleasant chile buzz as a top note of the marinade. You can use more, or sub hotter varieties as you please, (David Berkowitz? I’m talking about you, Pal.) The same goes for garlic, as you can certainly find adobada so laden with ajo that it’ll be your signature scent for days to come, but to me, that’s not the point – Balance is.

 

Urban’s Carne Adobada

3 – 3 1/2 Pounds Boneless Pork Shoulder

2-3 Cups low sodium Chicken Stock

1 Cup chile soaking water

1-2 dried Ancho Chiles, seeded

2-3 dried Guajillo Chiles, seeded 

1 dried Chipotle Chile, seeded

1-3 dried New Mexican Red (Hatch) Chiles, seeded

3-5 cloves fresh Garlic

1/2 medium Onion (roughly 1 cup)

1/2 Cup fresh Orange Juice

1/2 Cup Raisins

1/4 Cup live Cider Vinegar

3 Tablespoons Avocado Oil

1 teaspoon Agave Nectar

1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

1 teaspoon Salt

1/2 teaspoon ground Cumin

2 Bay Leaves

NOTE: in the images here, you’ll see I used some ground, some flake, and some whole chiles – That’s what I had, so that’s what I used. Certainly, the more whole dried you use, the more of that smoky, bitter con pellejo flavor you’ll get into the mix.

 

Allow a cast iron skillet over high heat to get truly hot.

Remove seeds from chiles, but leave the stems on, (it makes them easier to handle and flip)

Toast chiles, flipping regularly until they start to smoke a bit.

Raisins and chiles soaking

Transfer chiles to a bowl, add bay leaves, and cover well with boiling water. Allow to steep for 30 minutes, until they’re nice and soft.

Put raisins in another small bowl and cover with about 1” of boiling water. Let them steep for the time remaining on the chile soaking clock.

Pan roasted garlic

Add unpeeled garlic cloves to the skillet and reduce heat to medium. Toast the garlic, flipping regularly, until the skin is scorched and the cloves are notably soft, about 5-8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Trimmed boneless pork shoulder

While that’s going on, cut your pork shoulder into roughly 1” steaks and trim excess fat. Shoulder has plenty of interstitial fat, so remove any really big hunks and obvious silver skin, but don’t go overboard – Pork fat is good.

Dont you dare toss that chile soaking water

When your chiles are ready, drain them, and reserve the soaking water – Just make sure you check the heat level so you know what you’re dealing with. You can chuck the bay leaves.

Remove the stems from your reconstituted chiles, mince them, then toss them into a blender vessel. 

Peel the garlic and add that, along with 2 cups of the chicken stock, the orange juice, the drained raisins (don’t need to save that soaking liquid), the vinegar, a tablespoon of avocado oil, a pinch of salt, the agave nectar, and the ground cumin.

Cover and pulse all that until you get a nice mix. There will be some chunks of this and that still, which is just fine.

adobada marinade doing its thing

Arrange your pork in a baking dish and pour in all the marinade. Lift each piece of pork to make sure you get marinade on the undersides of each piece.

Cover the pan with metal foil and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

When you’re ready to cook – 

Peel and trim and dice onion.

Remove pork from baking dish and arrange in slow cooker – Leave the lion’s share of the marinade in the baking dish.

Add the reserved chile soaking water to the marinade, along with a pinch of salt, the oregano, and lemon thyme. Stir all that to incorporate, and then pour it all into the slow cooker. Add the diced onion on top and cover.

You can cook on low, medium, or high as you’ve got time for – Lower and slower is better, but they’ll all do just fine. Cook until the pork is fork tender, which on our pot means anywhere from 4 to 8 hours.

When you’re ready to serve, heat 2 tablespoons of avocado oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat. 

The post slow cook sear

Add as much pork as you want for the meal to the skillet and let it cook, unflipped, until it develops a nice dark crust, about 3-5 minutes. Flip once to get the other side.

Transfer pork to a serving platter.

You won’t need a knife to shred this pork

Serve with fresh, warm tortillas, pico de gallo, pickled onions/chiles/radishes, crema, lime wedges, and maybe some queso fresco or cotija, and cold, cold Mexican beer.

Tacos de puerco adobada

Postscript:

Monica had two quotes after this meal that I’ll share here – 

‘This is better than anything we’ve ever had a Mexican restaurant,’ and

‘You’ve bested me in slow cooker pork.’ 

Coming from her, that’s fairly amazing, so – Just sayin’…

This post is dedicated to the late, great food writer Jonathan Gold. There’s a guy who knew how to write about food. His love, passion, humor, and vast knowledge always shown through, and damn, could he write great last lines. Thanks man, you’re missed, but never forgotten.