Monthly Archives: March 2011

Veggie Mexican Enchiladas: The Platonic Ideal

I am proud to announce that German and I have perfected our recipe for enchiladas. My contributions are negligible – this recipe is based off German’s mom’s recipe and it is delicious! Essentially, my only contribution is as a guinea pig cook. I was capable of making it multiple times with nothing but verbal directions, which should give all of you a reasonable shot at being able to duplicate this. First, collect a few key ingredients:

2 cans of El Pato Salsa de Chile Fresco/Tomato Sauce

2 cans of Trader Joe’s Tomato sauce

6 – 10 cloves of garlic

1 medium yellow onion

Bag of Guerrero corn tortillas

5 large red potatoes

2 medium zucchinis

1/2 lb of Monterey jack cheese

Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Saute in a pan with canola oil. Once the onions are translucent, add the cans of El Pato sauce and Tomato sauce. Simmer for several minutes until the flavors are good and melded. Set aside. Peel and cube the red potatoes. Cube the zucchini as well. Put the potatoes in a pot and put enough water to cover with about an extra two inches of water. Sprinkle in a 1/2 tsp of salt. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, drop in the zucchini cubes. Boil for a few minutes – until the veggies are soft, but not mushy. Drain in a colander in the sink. Grate the jack cheese.

Start heating a sauce pan. Give it a few minutes so that it’s piping hot. Proceed to heat up about 25 tortillas – once warmed, put them all in a tortilla warmer or in a tea towel to keep them warm. THIS IS IMPORTANT. If you use cold tortillas, they won’t sop up the enchilada sauce very well, they will not be pliable and will break when you go to roll them. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

This is where you need a kitchen buddy. Set up your assembly line, which at my house, goes from stove to table. On the stove, I have the hot pan on the left and the sauce pan on the right. Then I have a glass casserole dish on the table, then the bowl of potato and zucchini. One person is the dipper, the other is on spoon duty. The dipper should grab a warm tortilla, dip it in the sauce, flipping a few times to make sure it is good and sauced up. Put it at the edge of the glass dish. The second person should get a good scoop (2/3 cup) of the potato/zucchini mixture and put it along the length of the sauced tortilla. Tightly roll it and press it against one side – you’ll want all of these tightly packed so that they hold closed. Fill the whole dish. I usually end up putting 4 the opposite direction to fill the space at the top of the pan. Pour the extra sauce over the top. Sprinkle half the shredded cheese over the top, cover with tin foil and pop it in the oven for 10 minutes. When you take it out, sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top and let it melt. Ready to serve in five minutes. I like to serve beans and rice on the side. Garnish with sour cream (or crema), black olives, diced onion and cilantro.

A note on El Pato: It does not take an advanced student of the Spanish language to deduce that “Salsa de Chile Fresco” does not translate to “Tomato Sauce.” I have no idea what inspired this peculiar translation – the thing to focus on is the color yellow. El Pato also has a sauce with jalapenos that it sells in a red can (there’s a green can sauce too). These are not good substitutes. Look for the yellow! People, Las Palmas will NOT cut it. To put it in California parlance, Las Palmas is weak sauce – literally. El Pato has a great kick – too strong to be used alone, but dilute it with tomato sauce and it’s just right. I have no idea if El Pato is widely available at all Mexican markets – based on a Google search, it looks like it is available at Walmart, so keep an eye out. If you find it, load up, because I can guarantee you’ll want to make these ones again.

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Filed under Los Angeles, Mexico, Recipes

Accents

As a native Californian, I always considered myself not to have an accent. Southerners have accents. Bostonians have accents. British people have accents. Don’t even get me started on Indian people.
But me? No way.
After graduating from high school, I made the audacious move across state lines to Portland, Oregon. In terms of the culture shock scale, this hardly registered. Here’s a compare/contrast:

Sonoma/ Portland
Lots of liberal people /  Lots of liberal people
Beautiful wine country  / Beautiful wine country
Stunning coastline / Stunning coastline
Good food / Good food
Sunny / Cloudy
Good Mexican food / Only one good taqueria in the entire metro area

Portland was novel, but not exactly exotic. I considered myself in the same realm – not particularly exotic.
My first day on campus, I was talking to a couple of girls from two other states – the usual chitchat: Where are you from? What’s your dorm? What classes do you have? Pretty banal stuff.
While I was talking, the two of them were smiling and exchanging mildly bemused glances.
When I paused, one of them jumped in, “ Excuse me, where are you from?”
“California.”
“Oooooooh! I thought you had an accent.”
Honestly, this was complete news to me. I found a fellow Californian and she confirmed – we did indeed have accents.
Suddenly all my verbal quirks were laid bare. Apparently, people in other states don’t generally say, “ I was like…what?!!” or recount dialogues from earlier in the day by saying, “So he was like, ‘What are you doing later?’ and I’m all, ‘Nothing. Why?’”
Apparently, they don’t say everything as if they were asking a question. And they don’t talk so quickly.
My inscrutable accent was confirmed by the ultimate arbiter: someone from another country in the process of learning English. My friend’s Brazilian “sister” came to visit and she rated all of us on intelligibility. #1 by a long shot was our friend from Ohio, proving that state’s superiority in…neutrality. Ohio is prime recruiting ground for bland national newscasters. Wyoming, New Mexico and Oregon were all passable. Dead last: me.
“Sometimes, I do not understand you,” she said in her adorable Portuguese-tinged accent.
After four years living with friends from all different states, I concluded the California accent was not only a habit I was unlikely to kick, but something that I could wear with pride. After all, California is, like, awesome?!
At the same time, I was trying to kick another accent – my American accent.

My fave song about being bilingual – con mis dos lenguas te voy a enamorar!!! Watch out…

Learning another language is always a comedy of errors, and my foibles in Cuba and Mexico were no exception to the rule. Some classmates along the line seemed to pick up the language effortlessly, others had been studying for years and were still painful to hear. I thought I was doing pretty well until I heard any recording of my voice.
After a year in Mexico, my friend, Diana, said to me, “Sierra, I am begging you to do me this favor. PLEASE change the message on your answering machine. It’s horrible!”
I had recorded it my first week living in Mexico, giving it a couple of tries, then just simply giving up. As she pointed out, she was the one who had to endure my mangled Spanish every time she called me. We recorded a new one – the crowning achievement of my progression in the Spanish language.
There are other indications of my progression – as well as the limits of my fluidity.
At a recent quinceanera, the priest battled through the entire mass in his leaden book Spanish, with that American twang. Afterwards, I asked my boyfriend if I sounded like that sometimes. He told me I didn’t sound that bad – then again, he has a vested interest in not pissing me off.
Perhaps the best compliment I’ve gotten was from a Spaniard who called a wrong number. A guy called our house in Portland speaking Spanish so my roommate passed it over to me. Confusion ensued. After 10 minutes of back and forth, we were able to establish that this guy did indeed have the number correct, but the former girlfriend he was trying to reach no longer lived there and I didn’t have any idea where she might be.
“You speak Spanish very well,” he lisped. “I cannot tell where you are from – Eres Latina?”
By this he meant someone with Spanish-speaking parents who grew up in the US.
You know what? I’ll take it.

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Filed under Getting personal, I heart Cali, Los Angeles, Mexico