Saturday, June 24, 2006

Secret Ingredients

I don’t remember who it was who said that she chopped onions whenever she wanted to get away with a good cry. Attributing the tears to the chopping, people would let her be. (I think it was Laura Esquivel in Like Water for Chocolate.)

When I’m upset, I like to make things that require mashing. It helps me channel the energy into something constructive. I like to think the resulting dish carries an additional fire that will assist the recipient through hard times.

Granted, you won’t find this tip in recipe books.

Mexico lost to Argentina today so I thought I’d provide two recipes that require both onions and mashing. I know I’ll be needing them when I make dinner tonight.

For traditional home-made guacamole, you need avocados, tomato, onion, garlic, jalapenos, lemon and salt. Quantities of each ingredient can vary according to preference. In mine, I like just a touch of onion (but I’ll chop a lot and then set it aside for my next dish), a few drops of garlic squeezed through a garlic press, and generous amounts of lemon and jalapenos.

If you need more specific instructions, I'd go with four mashed, but not creamed avocados (restraint is a vital ingredient in guacamole), two small tomatoes (chopped), an eighth of an onion (diced), two jalapenos (finely chopped), a whole lemon (squeezed), a few drops of garlic and a pinch of salt.

Please, whatever you do, do not add cream or yogurt to the Guacamole. Trust. Trust the creaminess of the avocados.

You can serve guacamole with either chips or warm tortillas.

For chiles rellenos, you need eight chiles poblanos (they’re not hard to find. Safeway or Whole Foods carry them.) Set them on a dry, hot frying pan and turn them occasionally, until their skins blacken. Drop them into a plastic bag for a few minutes; they’ll be easier to peel. After you do, open them, de-vein them, and take out all the seeds. I suggest you embark on this process with gloves on, unless you need further motivation to just let go and wail.

Chop one whole onion. Put it into a frying pan with a bit of oil in it and sauté until soft. Take 450 grams of cooked black beans, spoon them into the onion mixture and mash them as they get warm. Add a can of diced, unsalted tomatoes. Mash some more. Then sprinkle with salt and a pinch of oregano.

With your hands, stuff the bean mixture into the chiles until they’re nice and fat; then, line them up in a pre-greased oven dish with a cup of evenly distributed cotija cheese crumbled on top. If you want, you can add a bit of cream to the crumbled cheese so they glisten when you’re ready to serve them. 30 minutes in a 400-degree oven should do – keep in mind queso cotija is quite resilient and doesn’t ever melt.

If you open a couple of cold beers, you’re ready to sit back and serve a Mexican dinner. You know your secret ingredients. Fire, restraint, trust, and resilience, in honor of a valiant, generous team who I’m certain will win the next world cup, four years from today.

Salud por esa.

(Irresistible photo by Arne Müseler.)

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