Tag Archives: Mexican food

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

Diana Kennedy’s Tortilla Soup

As of today, I have made an executive decision to start featuring recipes on this blog. I haven’t been writing about this much, but I love to cook. My little brother (age 24) recently graduated from college and I compiled our family’s favorite recipes, which got me thinking, “Well, maybe some other folks might like to use these as well.” In general, I will only share the recipes that I’ve been using for quite a while or about which I have particularly strong feelings. With that approach, the recipes readily fit into the California focus of this blog as my “family recipes,” are a combination of favorites from Sunset magazine (the western cook’s Bible), some Oklahoma faves from my mother, a handful of wine country favorites picked up in Sonoma, and recipes from Mexico and Asia, an eminently Californian mix, if you ask me.

To kick this off, I would like to share Diana Kennedy’s recipe for tortilla soup. I credit her, but this recipe is best characterized as Mexican patrimony, not so much a recipe as a Platonic ideal passed down through generations of Mexican mothers. It’s so delicious because it’s so simple – the perfect trifecta of tomatoes, corn and onions with the punch of cilantro. And you get to load on tons of delicious toppings.

For those who aren’t familiar with her, Diana Kennedy is to Mexico what Julia Childs is to France, in a way. The wife of a correspondent for the New York Times, she lived in Mexico for many years, going on to collect a huge compendium of traditional recipes from every nook and cranny of Mexico, an undertaking which vaulted her to the Order of the Aztec Eagle, an honor the Mexican government reserves for foreigners who give great service to the country. Many of the recipes in her books are so authentic, you’d be hard-pressed to readily duplicate them in your American kitchen, but I love trying anyway.

Here is her recipe, with some of my notes:

Tortilla Soup

Diana Kennedy

5 large ripe tomatoes or two 14 1/2 ounce cans of whole tomatoes, drained

1 large white onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

6 springs cilantro

1/4 c. canola oil

2 quarts of chicken broth

2 cups of frozen corn kernels

Broil the tomatoes in the oven – I have done this with both fresh and canned tomatoes. Broil them until there are some burned patches, turning them a couple of times. This does wonders for enhancing the flavor and is a step you should not skip!! Toss the onion, cilantro and garlic in the blend. Drop in the tomatoes and blend until well-mixed but still with some rough texture. Heat the canola oil in your pot. Dump the tomato mixture on top – it will sizzle! Once it has darkened slightly, add the chicken broth and corn. Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer for about 10 minutes and serve.

The toppings are key! I am a huge fan of the pasilla chiles, which are not terribly spicy and give an incredible rich flavor to the broth. **To make the tortilla strips, take corn tortillas (not flour) and cut them into 1/4 inch strips, laying them out on a flat cookie tin. Stick this in the broiler and keep a close eye on it, toasting for a few minutes until light brown and crispy. Flip the strips and toast for just a minute more. Careful- I’ve burned many batches of these. Alternately, you can crumble tortilla ships in the soup, but the strips are SO much better.

Toppings

Crema (or sour cream)

Avocado, diced

Diced onion

Cilantro

Pork rinds

Queso fresco

Dried pasilla chiles, cut into strips

Limes

Tortilla strips**

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Filed under Mexico, Recipes

El Tepeyac: Take 2

My neighbor recently read my blog post on El Tepeyac (Bigger is better, except if it’s not authentic) and asked me why I was so tough on El Tepeyac. In all fairness, I did give El Tepeyac another shot and found it better on the second and third go-rounds. We ordered a burrito drenched in enchilada sauce and it worked out pretty well, so officially, my three stars review still holds, but it’s not like I won’t go to eat there on a Friday night when the meal budget is $5 each.
I decided to take a more positive spin on the restaurant reviewing however and actively support some of my favorite restaurants here in East LA. Soooo…if you’re looking for something BESIDES El Tepeyac (which is NEVER hard up for business), here are a few of my picks!

Best places to eat Mexican food in East LA besides El Tepeyac

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Filed under Los Angeles, Uncategorized

Bigger is better, except if it’s not authentic

This weekend, I finally decided to walk a couple blocks from my house and eat at the fabled El Tepeyac Cafe on Evergreen. It had been recommended to me by an LA-native before I even left the wine country and the guy who turned on my gas also gave it the thumbs up. Two sources plus my independent reconnaissance which revealed an almost constant line in front = Worth trying at least once.
I’m sorry to say I probably won’t go back. Not because it wasn’t tasty – it just simply wasn’t tasty enough nor was the ambience so compelling that I’ll shell out $9 for a burrito (even if it did weigh about 4 lbs).
The experience did get me thinking about authenticity however – especially after I scrolled through some of the online reviews on Yelp.
The amateur food reviewers split into one of two categories: enthusiastic eaters wowed by the biggest burritos this side of the Mississippi and haters who complain that the place is no good because it’s not “authentic.” A representative sampling of the tenor of the conversation:

Richard D.

Manny’s Special, that is all you need to know…I never seen this in my life.  I couldn’t finish it on my own; so I split it with a friend.  If you plan to take on this beast alone, make sure to fast two days in advance.  Got to love Mexican food.

Saul S.

Let me get this straight: “HUGE portions” merit the authenticity-stamp for Mexican joints?? *sigh*This place is as “authentic” as Knott’s Berry Farm’s Montezuma’s Revenge snack-bar. Maybe I’m spoiled by the regional Piasa joints that don’t cater to LA nostalgia but I don’t trust any Mexican restaurant that doesn’t serve Carne Asada or Pastor meat. 
After all the hype from my newly extended East-Los familia and fellow die-hard Dodger fans, Its safe to say I was disappointed by TepeWac’s condensed, portion-friendly menu. 
I agree, not ALL “authentic” Mexican joints serve the same type of food, but they DO serve a protein other than thawed-out chicken strips and Shredded beef(Machaca) 
No trolling. Soon after I ate here, I discovered this place is a joke among un chingo de Mexicanos besides this serote from Long Beach.

Then we have Robert A. who passes on the posturing:

I know that you could either hate it or love it but if you come with the mentality of eating REAL MEXICAN food, you might as well go to Mexico as I have never found any of those places here in L.A. Even in Mexico. We all have different taste and preference so what’s Mexican?

True that, Robert. Saul. I hear you, but you’re too cool for school and it’s bastante obnoxious.
Authenticity is for coins and stamps if you ask me. It implies that there is a single gold standard, a single correct way of preparing any given cuisine and that any divergence from the norm immediately merits the use of either “fusion” or “nouveau.”
I grew up on “authentic” California cuisine. My homecooking repertoire includes recipes from my mom’s Oklahoma family like fried okra, Fantastic (a layered pudding and cool whip extravaganza) and blackberry wine cake (which includes both Jello mix and blackberry flavored Manischewitz wine). My other specialties include Vietnamese salad rolls, pad thai, spaghetti, stir fry, tortilla soup and tamales. Garnished with a smattering of recipes from Sunset magazine like snickerdoodle cookies and chili egg puff. Buen provecho.
Robert hits another nail on the head – I’ve never had “REAL” Mexican food in Los Angeles or anywhere in California. The tacos al pastor on the streets of DF were genuinely otherworldly, the slice of pineapple lopped off the top of the spit sending them into another realm entirely. Besides being tasty, they’re also a perfect example of the dubious nature of authenticity. Like mariachi music, they’re a relatively new thing. Furthermore, they were introduced to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants, not born from the country’s Aztec or Mayan soul. King Taco just doesn’t cut it. Not to mention that an “authentic” quesadilla in Mexico City doesn’t have any cheese which everyone but the chilangos and the lactose-intolerant agrees is completely stupid.
While we’re whining, horchata made from the mix is simply nowhere near as good as the stuff with condensed milk, there is not enough mole up here and please send along recommendations for good places with comida yucateca, pozole and tortas.
However, the point of this blog post is: Who cares? There is only one measure that counts and that is delicious-ness. My boyfriend introduced me to sprinkling Kraft parmesan on his mom’s tostadas. Authentic? No. Delicioso? You bet!
The quality of Mexican food generally drops off with each mile you travel from the border, mainly because the competition decreases. However, the move away from the mythical homeland can also be liberating and I’ve had lots of good American-Mexican-Latino, etc. food from throughout California. I’ll be honest – i like it just as much as the incredible traditional dishes concocted from more exotic ingredients like pumpkin seeds, squash flowers and goat meat that I loved eating in Mexico.
In fact, the singular dish that I have found unchanged by its migration from the southland across the border doesn’t usually get mentioned in the Mexican culinary pantheon. However, it is a point of pride that it was indeed invented in Mexico. That dish would be none other than the Caesar salad.

Here’s some food photos from my personal collection, just for fun.

If they aren’t authentic enough for ya, take a walk with me through Mercado San Juan.

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Filed under DF AKA Mexico City, Los Angeles