Wednesday, February 25

Monday Market Mysteries

Agathe Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle can all bite me. My mysteries involve fruits and vegetables and things that I'm not sure if they are fruits or vegetables. How about that for suspense? Instead of tension and suspense being so thick you could cut them with a knife, I've got tangible mysterious things you can actually cut with a knife. And eat. If you dare. Whahahaha.

Grocery shopping has always inspired a few What the hell. . . .?-moments--generally at food, sometimes disgusting magazine covers. Shopping in Mexico at the market, my double-take-What the hell. . . ? reaction is constantly escalating. Not just because my love of profanity grows each and every day, either.

The whole market scene is completely overwhelming. It's crowded, hot, colorful, and delicious. On my first trips to the market, the mysteries were totally overlooked. My inability to successfully maneuver the crowds, being a (comparatively) gangly figure, and my blond hair, made me feel like an oddly yellowish leviathan with poor coordination. A leviathan that didn't speak Spanish very well.

The conspicuousness has decreased a bit (the "güera"s that greet me denote more of a familiar and amiable circus freak than a space invader) and my success at maneuvering through the crowds and the Spanish language have been consistently advancing. So now, instead of focusing on my conspicuous pain and useless tongue, I notice little heads of things I've never seen before peeping out at me.

Things with spikes, things with eyes, things of every color, shape, and size! All Dr. Seusiness aside, the fruits and vegetables are amazing, mainly because there are things I have never seen before, not even at Whole Foods for a thousand dollars per pound.

One of my first mystery purchases was what looked like a gourd's impression of my own dear sweet aguacate. Or an avocado that has had extensive plastic surgery. The shape is similar, a little more tucked and puckered in places, but it's smoother, tauter, and has opted for a chemical peel to remove the dark age spots and sun damage, resulting in a much lighter green, youthful appearance.

I wasn't exactly sure what it was or what to do with it, but my first instinct said "Bite it," so I did.
It was a little gross. Maybe gross is too strong of a word. It was fresh and crisp, true, but also a definite flavor I would describe as Elmersesque. It didn't make me gag, but it wasn't exactly a pleasant surprise. A little more work than my lazy instincts would like was definitely necessary.

So I chopped it up, sauteed it in some garlic, whipped up some spicy peanut sauce, cooked some rice noodles, and my mystery gal played well with others. It absorbed the other flavors nicely , but retained more of its squash-like crispness than zucchini and summer squash generally do. Oh, and it lost its glue taste.
So this is the part where you can't put the book down, because you're just dying to know who the killer is-- or in this case what this fruit is, right?

The rain pounded against my office window. The wind howled like a blood-thirsty wolf as I sat hunched at my desk. The lights flickered off . I felt a presence--I knew they would come find me, I had gotten to close to the truth and had to be stopped--the lights flickered on, I looked up.
"Aah, so it was you, Chayote."

I've never noticed chayote in the U.S., but I've also never looked for it. If you happen to stumble upon it, check it out. Or make yourself some spicy peanut noodles and throw in whatever the hell you want (I'm dying to rip off The Onion and add a tagline to my blog so it's Aguacate: Now with Twice as Many Swears).

Spicy Peanut Noodles
or as I prefer calling them "Hot P-Noods."
I always make a huge batch of these, because they're great leftover.

1 package rice noodles--I prefer a medium thickness with this sauce, but again, WtHYW.
2 Tbsp peanut oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 cups chayote, peeled and chopped (zuchini, brocoli, peapods, green really can't go wrong)
1 red bell pepper, cut in strips
1 cup natural unsweetend peanut butter
1/2 c soy sauce
1/4 c sriracha
1/4 c honey
1/4 c water
Spicy peanuts to garnish*
Fresh cilantro

Begin cooking rice noodles according to package directions.
In a medium skillet heat heat peanut oil over medium low heat. Add garlic. Sauté for 1 minute. Add chayote and bell pepper. Sauté for 5-6 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Lower heat and add remaining ingredients. Mix well and taste for desired spiciness, sweetness, and saltiness. Simmer on low heat for 2-3 minutes or until sauce is warm and vegetables are desired tenderness. Mix with rice noodles and top each serving with spicy peanuts and fresh cilantro.

*spicy peanuts are essentially peanuts coated in chile powder--easy to substitute if you don't have ready made ones at hand.

Monday, February 16

Vitamina T

¿Febrero, Febrero, por qué eres cruel en todo el mundo?

I may not be enduring blizzards and sub-zero temperatures (Fahrenheit sub-zero! Now that is a crazy thing), but in spite of a general balminess, February is still kind of sucking.

The semester is ending, so the normal finals mess is getting cleaned up. I'm hoping once it is over I will suddenly find myself with abnormally high levels of energy or I may consider switching my high levels of coffee consumption for speed.

Generally at this time of year, I'm fighting off a cold and trying to consume as many oranges and grapefruits as I can. I even resorted to putting those Emergen-C packets in chamomile tea one particularly bleak February when I lived in a cold, dank, hippie-basement. Thankfully, this year, I haven't been stuffed up with a vague, foggy wish to die at all (knock on wood). Therefore, my vitamin of choice has switched from "C" to "T".

"Vitamina T" is a joke I've heard repeatedly here in Mexico. It refers to the "T" heavy diet of tacos, tlayudas, tostadas, tortas. . ..I think you get the idea. While it may only be a joke, I have a strange faith in the curative (comfortingly curative) properties of all these delicious items. These past few weeks I have turned to them again and again. They give me a nice little pick up and a few moments of quiet enjoyment-- a meaty, spicy solace.

So if you do or don't have a cold and February is bumming you out a little bit--make yourself a batch of the major "T"--(¿señor T?)--tacos. The ease of preparation itself is a bit curative. There are as many possibilities as delicious Mexican dishes that start with the letter "T". Be creative!

*slow cook some chicken, pork, or beef in the crock-pot. You can choose to jazz it up with some seasoning, (citrus juices, garlic, or use my mama's crock-pot meat) or just leave it as is.
*pick up a pack of chorizo at the grocery store--if you don't live close to a grocery store that sells chorizo. . . nah, you aren't looking hard enough, you live close to a grocery store that sells chorizo. If "strange" meats make you uncomfortable, don't read the ingredient label. If you are very comfortable with all meats, cook up those blood-red, ground up salivary glands, lips, and cheeks and enjoy their facey goodness.
*beans and rice (for those animal-haters). I used to frequently make a bean and rice mixture for tacos using Zataran's Black Beans and Rice mix, it already has spices mixed in, so it makes it nice and easy. Cook according to package directions, then throw in a can of refried beans, a can of corn (drained), and some chopped jalapenos. If you want to get really crazy you can use this mix with some meat.
*tacos dorados. Deep fried tacos=deep fried comfort. If you do it right, they are crispy and delicious, not heavy or greasy.

Regardless of what main ingredient you choose, there are a few things that are a MUST for a real taco.
--corn tortillas. . . don't insult me, your tacos, or Oaxaca by putting your goodies on flour tortillas or those crispy molded shells. Seriously. You can warm them up in the microwave or toast them in an oil free skillet (or you can be really legit and dip them in the meat juices before you warm them in a skillet.)
--diced onions or some shredded green cabbage
--fresh cilantro
--salsa. The chunky, tomatoey salsas of my youth aren't to be found here. Usually you get a green salsa or a warm color (anything from 60s sofa-yellow, true-red,tiger-lily-orange, or a zombie-purple-red) that is primarily pulverized peppers. Chunky tomato salsas are still good, but the simpler, hotter ones can really showcase the flavor of the meat without overpowering it. Mrs Renfros is a good salsa verde choice.
--limes. They've got vitamin C, if you have a cold--you can lazily kill the proverbial birds

I hope you enjoy a batch soon and make your February a little bit less gruesome.