Monday, September 21


So Mexico turned 199 last week (September 16 for you nogoodnicks that think cinco de mayo is independence day). I had this big plan to list 199 things I love about Mexican food, but I got to 38 (1/5.24 of 199. .that's significant, right?) and decided I would rather go eat all these things I was talking about, drink mezcal, and get decked out in red, white, and green garb than finish this list. I made the right choice. But here are the 38 I got to.

  1. Chiles Rellenos
  2. So many different varieties of things I had previously thought of in single-fixed terms like "mango" or "banana." I'd never thought about the answer to (or question) "What kind of mango would you like?" Thank you, God, for inventing fingers and their ability to point at things.
  3. Spicy peanuts (especially when they are free with beer)
  4. Oaxacan Mole! And all the 27 ingredients that go into it. And how people defend mole from their region like their mother. I've met a lot of poblanos that poo-poo the Oaxacan mole in favor of mole poblano. I totally understand. If there was an Iowa mole, it would be so much better than any other state's.
  5. Chocolate.
  6. Mezcal. Once referred to as "tequila for grownups and hobos" it can be fierce, but is generally smoky, smooth, earthy, and intoxicating. Enjoy with chile salt and citrus wedges.
  7. ¿Con todo?
  8. Fruit water
  9. Lime and spicy with everything
  10. Tomatillo tanginess
  11. Los Danzantes
  12. Ceviche
  13. Ice cream and paletas near La Soledad in Oaxaca and from dudes pushing carts in Miahuatlán
  14. Nanche, chayote, chamoy, epazote, and other mysterious things that I'd never heard of before and now know and love.
  15. The Spanish word for pomegranate is grenada, which answers my query of why pomegranate syrup is named "grenadine" . . .which, yeah, I probably should have got from the "granate" part, but. . .I didn't. And now I do. And I find it very satisfying.
  16. Cilantro's prevalence.
  17. How my students almost always respond to the question "What is your favorite food?" with "My favorite food is Mexican food."
  18. Spicy pork! Chorizo, cecina! So red! So luscious!
  19. Chilaquiles
  20. Squash flower soup
  21. Al pastor or shepherd's style--pork cooked gyro-style. And the accompanying joke Al pastor alemán (german shepherd) that it is made of dog. Also the fact that if that joke is at times true, I don't care, because it's sooo good.
  22. Licuados
  23. Atole. A hot, sweet drink made from corn. It kind of reminds me of a runny Cream of Wheat in texture and has some vanilla and cinnamon flavors to it. Sold from carts in the morning alongside tamales. Perfect rainy day breakfast.
  24. Tamales.
  25. Quesillo and its amazing elasticity.
  26. Tostadas
  27. Nopales
  28. Eating breakfast in the clouds in San Jose del Pacifico.
  29. Hot chocolate.
  30. Flan.
  31. Buying grilled chicken in the street.
  32. Huevos Rancheros from The Pelican in San Agustinillo.
  33. Goat.
  34. Mangos cut to look like flowers (or pine cones), sprinkled with lime, chili powder, and served on a stick.
  35. Tortillas. Corn tortillas.
  36. Enchiladas Verdes.
  37. Tasajo. It's like the offspring of beef jerky and a ribeye. I didn't eat it for the first bit I was here, because of the cafeteria's tasajo's resemblance to shriveled ears. Now it's a highly enjoyable accompaniment to enchiladas or chilaquiles.
  38. Tortas.

There are tons more, but that's as far as I made it. What are your favorites? Can you think of 71 more?

Thursday, September 3

Y'all Know What This Is?

I'm sure you don't. Those of you who have enjoyed popular music in the last few years probably know that it's a celebration (bitches), but not of what. I shan't keep you dangling in suspense any longer. Oaxaca and I are celebrating our one year anniversary today. All together now. . .Aaah.

It's pretty crazy. I can't believe it's been a full year already. We've had some turbulence (immigration, curvy mountain roads, chorizo aftermath), but Oaxaca and I really love each other. That being said, it ain't gonna last. Unfortunately, Oaxaca and I aren't meant for the long haul, because my family and that Vietnamese salad with vermicelli, mint, cilantro, basil, cucumber, and rice wine vinaigrette (what's it called?) don't live here. We're from two different worlds!

Reconciling the fleeting nature of our love, I've decided to enjoy the precious moments we have together. I also need to get serious about picking up some Oaxacan cooking skills, so I can carry Oaxaca with me and devour its memory wherever I go. Let's be honest, I'm in it for the food (cuisinedigger?).

To honor my anniversary, I decided to tackle my most beloved and also avoided dish(I've avoided cooking them, not eating them) . Chiles Rellenos.

Chiles rellenos are found in many areas of Mexico and the U.S. and can vary widely from the type of chilies to the guts. The first chile relleno I ever ate was in Taos, New Mexico at The Chile Connection when I was 11 years old. It was a poblano stuffed with shredded, spiced beef without the egg batter coating you generally see. It was wonderful and the first step in this downward spiral of my chile relleno obsessed life.

In Oaxaca they are usually filled with a spicy chicken called picadillo (which can also refer to pork or beef seasoned in the same manner), almonds, and raisins. The chiles are usually poblanos or chiles de agua, the latter are hotter and what we call banana peppers at home (I think. My chile knowledge isn't very large. I know, I know. I'll put it on the Ways I Must Improve as a Human list. Luckily, I can now check "share a delicious Oaxacan chile relleno recipe with the masses" off of that list.

Chiles Rellenos
Serves 4 (you'll want at least 2 each)

8 medium-large poblano peppers
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cloves
8 oz of tomato sauce
2 fresh tomatoes (preferably juicy ones), diced and juices retained
2 C chicken, cooked and shredded
1/2 C almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 C raisins
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
vegetable shortening for frying

Using a long fork, roast poblanos over an open flame until skin is blistered and blackish. Try and roast thoroughly, because then the skin flakes off easily. Let me push the "using a long fork" part too. I first did this with the peppers sitting directly on my gas stove, sans utensil, and it was difficult to get the tops and tips of the peppers charred, yet surprisingly easy to do so to my fingers. Remove skin and set aside in a cover bowl to cool. Be careful not to tear the flesh of the peppers, you want them completely intact at this point, just minus the skin.

For the picadillo, coat a medium skillet with olive oil, place over medium heat, and add onion, garlic, jalapeños, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, and cloves. Cook until onions are soft. Add tomato sauce, tomatoes, chicken, almonds, and raisins. If your tomato sauce is pretty thick and your tomatoes aren't very juicy, add 1/4 C of chicken stock. It doesn't need to be very liquidy (yeah, I know), but you'll want a little so you can cook it down. I used canned tomato sauce and Roma tomatoes, so I needed it. Cook, stirring frequently, until excess liquid is evaporated. Turn of heat and set aside. You can make the picadillo in advance and refrigerate. Just rewarm before the stuffing.

Now get back to the peppers. They should be cool enough to handle now. Make a slit down one side of each pepper. Gently, gently. Stuff them with the picadillo mixture, so they are full, but that the slit is able to close.

You can reheat the peppers and eat them at this stage if you like or continue on for the breading. If you choose the breading here's the way epicurious does it: heat 1/2 inch shortening to 375°F. on a deep-fat thermometer. Fold yolks into egg whites. Working with 2 chiles at a time, using a slotted spoon, dip chiles into eggs and fry, turning occasionally, until golden, no more than a couple of minutes. With a slotted spoon transfer chiles to paper towels to drain. Enjoy.

Final apology--I was so busy enjoying my homemade chiles rellenos, that I didn't photograph them. I also didn't do the batter, because I was impatient to eat them (thus the epicurious section). So another list addition "Take pictures of beautiful foods" and "Buy things (like batteries) when you need them instead of saying over and over " I need to buy. . ."" And now, I'm off to the cafeteria for a breakfast serving of spicy, red meat.

With all this talk of anniversaries I almost forgot (ok, I did forget, but then I got an email and remembered--bad daughter) that my parents are celebrating 32 years of marriage today! It might not be as exciting as a 1st anniversary between a place and a human, but it isn't too shabby :) Happy anniversary rents!