by Allen Strange
Many friends have asked for this cookbook so I have decided the best
way to distribute it is via the web. This was originally hard copy and
I just HTMLed it- print it out if you prefer. This is an updated
edition of the original 1988 version with some corrections and a couple
of new goodies. If you don't already know about it you may also want to
visit The Chili-Heads Web Page.
Table of Contents
This collection is based on the fact that taqueria food is the basis of
all intelligent life in the universe. The recipes are few, none of
which recommend the use of ground beef. I hail the virtues of lard,
prefer flour tortillas for my quesadillas, insist on Mexican chocolate
for the adobo sauce, and drink beer with my meals. This book also
contains what I believe is the first documentation of a serious
disorder known to tacologists as Chili Lips.
The subject at hand here is folk food and the art of taco stand
cuisine. The recipes and techniques are in the tradition of Mexican
home cooking and have been developed over the years, guided by what I
have learned from many Mexican cooks, the ingredients available to me,
and, most important, the insatiable need to consume as much Mexican
food as possible. These are not the kinds of recipes you are apt to
find in most cookbooks, and certainly probably will not produce the
results one is used to at most Mexican restaurants north of the border.
But these are the sort of recipes that will produce excellent results
and delicious food in the traditions of the immortal temple of the taco
-- the taqueria.
I have written this guide to satisfy three personal needs; 1) for my
friends, with hope of encouragement to further explore the wonders of
Mexican cooking and so they will invite me to dinner more often, 2) to
codify some of my own cooking habits [as I am not a very organized meal
planner], and, 3) as a personal rebellion against ground beef tacos,
processed cheese quesadillas and overpriced Mexican dishes prepared by
French chefs with a phobia against lard.
Being born in an American-Mexican border town and living one quarter
of a century in Southern California, my move to the south San Francisco
Bay area was certainly not motivated by a pilgrimage for great Mexican
cooking. Even though, I was initially very disappointed in what I
thought to be a surprising lack of satisfying Mexican food in an area
of large Hispanic population. Over the years of course I realized this
was only due to my own unfamiliarity with some of the many hidden
jewels and palaces of piquant hidden far away from the shopping malls
and restaurant guides in the South Bay. There will be more to say about
several of the temples of the tortilla and other sources of the rosy
red morning after a bit later. Out of self defense of possible
shredded beef withdrawal, I began attempts at recreating the flavors
and textures of Mexican cooking I remembered from the streets and
sidewalks of Calexico and Tiajuana. At that time I was only mildly
versed in the cooking methods and the ingredients required to activate
the salsa of Pavlov's Pedro. Consequently, many of the methods and
ingredients put forth here are occasionally not quite authentic and may
be questioned and criticized by other advocates of commercial Mexican
cuisine. The results, however, are quite authentic in appearance and
flavor, and will hold their own against any other mesa de Mexico.
I have spent many hours sifting through every Mexican cookbook I
could find-- a few supplying some very useful information on both
ingredients and techniques. I have cited these resources at the
appropriate spots and strongly recommend that you add them to your
library. My own esthetic is perhaps best described as peasant food, and
this approach has also generated some interesting techniques. I have
adapted and developed these recipes to work with what can be found in
most grocery stores. Some of the recipes will call for what appear to
be very traditional ingredients, while others will require some
tampering with commercial preparations. Trust me-- these things work if
treated and doctored in the right way.
One of the great things about Mexican food is that just about anything
goes with anything. A well prepared Mexican dish will have its own
unique flavor, but cooking with a limited number of spices insures
compatibility of the selections. My basic Mexican dishes consist of
tortillas, meats, beans, condiments of cheeses and salsas, and , last
but not least, beer. There are a limited number of actual recipes given here, but the possibilities are
endless. From these six areas one combines recipes and ingredients to
create any number of variations on tacos, enchiladas, burritos,
quesadillas, tamales, tortas and beer.
Like all great cuisines on this planet, taqueria cooking did not
just sprout out of the ground. There are many cookbooks documenting the
evolution of Mexican food, beginning with the "crude" methods of the
South American Indians, a middle-era about the Spaniards teaching them
that turkey tastes better than dog, and ending with the development of
various regional recipes and techniques. My own theory is a bit more
abbreviated and probably just as accurate. In the beginning, God made machaca
(shredded beef.) The Baja Indians made the tortillas,
but in those days only God could make shredded beef. Then one day an
Indian named Taco put some machaca in a warm tortilla. The next day his
larger brother, Burrito, rolled the beef in a flour tortilla and his
mother, Enchilada, put some red chili sauce on it. And on it went until
all the Indians moved to America and opened taquerias, named, of
course, after the first Indian to put shredded beef in a tortilla.
Quite truthfully, the only real difference between tacos, burritos,
enchiladas, etc. is the packaging. Take the stuffings from a taco and
roll it in a flour tortilla and it becomes a burrito. Take the innerds
of a burrito, roll it in a corn tortilla, top it with cheese and salsa,
drink some beer, and it is magically transformed into an enchilada.
I then distinguish between a "recipe" and a
"technique". A recipe for adobo can be many different things,
it all depends on the particular technique you choose to apply. In
fact, you can even choose to think of the words taco, burrito,
enchilada, etc., as adjectives. Make some meat and "taco" it one day,
"burrito" it the next, and "tamale" it the next. Also consider
combining parts of different recipes and invent your own hybrid
dishes-- anyone for burrencharamacos? Some combinations will be
suggested and the rest is open for tacological experimentation.
The Basic Stash
As any tacologist knows, the craving for Mexican food can build up over
a period of several days or suddenly hit you with no warning
whatsoever! The only defense for a Mex-attack is a stash of ingredients
which will allow the design and implementation of a meal on moments
notice [almost]. The items required for the basic explorations of
taqueria cuisines are common to many other world recipes, and the basic spices and canned goods can
be stored almost indefinitely. A couple of
miscellaneous perishable goodies are also required to ward off the
various strains of the Mex-attack. Note that only a few of these
recipes call for salt. This is not necessarily to advocate a salt-free
diet, but I simply find that with the spices, salt is usually not
needed. If your preference is different, you know what to do.
The following list will accommodate every recipe in this guide.
- Pure Chili Powder - Keep a jar of hot California Chili and
Pasilla Chili-- the pasilla being the hotter of the two. New Mexico
Chili is also very tasty and is usually quite hot. Packages are
available in Mexican markets and it is far superior to the normal
gringo chili powder one finds in spice racks. Gringo chili is a factory
mixture of pure chili with cumin, garlic, salt, etc. By adding various
spices to pure chili in preferential proportions, an amazing variety of
subtle variations of a single dish are possible. If you can't find the
pure stuff, the gringo will suffice but cut back on the other spices to
your own taste.
- Oregano - Of course, fresh ground oregano is the best. If you
only have access to the grocery store brands try to get Mexican
- Thyme - The only time I use thyme [ha!] is in adobo, but it is
essential to the recipe.
- Cinnamon Sticks - Although cinnamon is very common to many
Mexican recipes, I only use it in adobo, and to cut to booze in Mexican
- Cloves - Cloves, is are free-wheeling spice than can be used,
sparingly, in virtually any recipe. La Perla Taqueria in Campbell,
California uses a subtle hint of cloves as a trademark for almost every
dish. I suggest that after you are familiar with the recipes in this
booklet you experiment with a pinch or two of this lovely aromatic. A
"pinch" is a well established international measurement, which means
"try a little and then add more if you want"
- Garlic and Garlic Powder - To keep garlic fresh for long periods,
peel the cloves and keep them refrigerated in a covered jar with
vegetable oil. To peel the cloves, give the entire bunch a sharp whack
with a side of a cleaver or large knife. They will break open and the
bare clove is easily removed. Use plenty of oil, as it can be added
later to flavor salads and tortillas.
- Ground Cumin - This pungent powder is common to many Mexican
recipes and is also known as cumino.
- Fresh and Ground Coriander - Fresh coriander is also know as
Cilantro or Chinese Parsley. It comes in small bunches and must be kept
refrigerated until ready to use. Coriander will only last a day or two.
To use coriander wash the bunch with cold water and cut off the extreme
ends of the stems. Some cooks say not to use the stems, but the green
part is just as flavorful as the leaves and when cooked it all comes
out the same. To use in meats, just throw a bunch in the pot. To use in
salsas you may want to chop the leaves into finer pieces. Add fresh
coriander to the lettuce when making tacos for a special tang
Canned and Packaged Goods
The following ingredients are the things of which you usually run out,
so keep a good supply on hand.
- Hot Garden Vegetables - These pickled vegies are absolutely
essential to shredded beef and enchilada sauce. Known as verduras
escabeche in Mexico. they can usually be found with the pickles and
relishes under the name of Hot Garden Mix. The recipes call for one 11
1/2 ounce jar for every two pounds of meat. I usually keep four jars on
hand because they are often a bit difficult to locate. I have recently
seen a version of these vegetables actually bottled under the name of
"Mexican Mix." You can also custom make your own
pickled vegetables at a considerable savings .
- Dried Chilies - Several types of dried peppers, chilies and pods
are usually available in the international section of most markets. The
dried chilies are a necessity for adobo and a great touch for any of
the red meat recipes. Then let the chilies simmer covered in water for
about 30 minutes until they are soft and pliable. Slit them open,
remove the seeds, then lay them, opened, over the top of any red meat
as it cooks. The bravo eater will then slice the cooked slices of hell
into smaller pieces for inclusion in tacos, quesadillas, whatever.
Dried chilies come in a variety of types, each having different
flavors so subjective I will not attempt to describe the differences.
My three favorites are the New Mexico, pasilla and chipolte (a dried,
smoked jalepeno.) Note that there is a difference between the straight,
dried chilies and chili pods. The pods are hotter!
- Canned Green Chilies - These are mild ancho chilies which are
available either whole [and seeded] or chopped. Chopped is more
convenient for cooking with meats, while I prefer the whole chilies in
quesadillas and enchiladas. However, now that I think about it, the
other way around sounds just as good. The more macho eater may prefer
the canned jalapeno chilies in some dishes.
- Canned Chipotles - Chipotles are a type of roasted jalapeno with
a flavor all of its own. I prefer the canned chipotles because they
come in either a very hot adobo sauce or pickled [en escabeche].
Chipotles are used here for adobo, enchilada sauce and a special salsa
called Scorpion Sauce.
- Peanut Butter - Yeah, Peanut Butter! Mexican cooks often use
peanuts for thickening agents. I use it to add a very subtle flavor to
enchilada sauce. I thought this was my exclusive trick but I recently
saw it specified in a authentic Mexican recipe.
- Lard - Some people have problems with lard. In fact, I have a
friend who opened a taqueria and refused to use lard in the beans. He
was out of business in two months! Lard is okay - lard is our friend,
and you can't make proper Mexican food without it. If you think lard
will turn off your dinner guests, tell them you use manteca.
Lard keeps virtually forever, even unrefrigerated. In a pinch bacon
grease can be substituted, but lard is always preferred.
- Cooking Oil and Butter - Use safflower oil if possible. Don't
substitute margarine for butter.
- Chicken and Beef Stock - Don't use the bullion cubes.
- Dry Pinto Beans - Keep about a pound on hand for Frijoles
Refritos and Frijoles Borrachos.
- Canned Refried Beans - Yes, I'm serious! These things used to
taste like dog food, but in recent years, the Rosarita brand "Spicy"
canned beans have improved and can be very convincing when doctored
with cheeses and a San Salvadorian cooking trick!.
- Beer - A serious disorder often contracted while preparing
Mexican food is known as Chili Lips. Chili Lips can be quite
painful and the only reliable treatment is massive quantities of beer.
This treatment also often adds to the creative aspects of many of the
dishes. I recommend a light lager, preferably a Mexican brand. Mexican
beer is best served in its chilled can or bottle with a slice of lemon
or lime on the top. Some chefs say that a bit of salt on the can will
hasten recovery from Chili Lips.
Beer is also a necessary ingredient in the cooking of shredded
beef, carnitas, and chili verde, as it serves both as a tenderizer and
a flavoring agent. Since a good Mexican chef always has an open beer on
hand, it has become tradition to use beer any time extra liquids are
needed for any dish.
- Tequila - use cheap tequila as a marinade for Carne Asada or
Fajitas. If you plan to drink it, don't mess with the cheap stuff. And
if you aren't up to swallowing the worm, this book is not for you!!
(Actually the worms don't come in tequila, they are in Metaxca!)
Tequila is not good for chili lips and will make them burn even more.
If you drink enough of it, however, you won't care.
- Canned Tomatillos - These are small green Mexican tomatoes
packaged in a brine-like liquid [escabeche]. They are also often
packaged as Tomatillo Entero. I do prefer the canned
tomatillos, as the liquid is part of the flavor. In the preparation of
Chili Verde, plan on one 13 ounce can for each pound of pork.
- Canned Sauces - A large can of tomato sauce is needed for proper
enchilada sauce. Some markets carry a reasonable brand of Salsa de
Chili Colorado or Salsa Estilo which also works well. It is my
experience that most canned enchilada sauces are not acceptable.
- Tortillas - Both flour and corn tortillas are needed as one or
the other is better, depending on the dish. If a Mexican market is
handy it is worth the trip to get them fresh. Some regular markets also
have fresh tortillas available. Get the regular size unless you want to
use the burrito version for large burritos. Many taquerias make tacos
using the smaller 4 inch corn tortillas call tortillas chicas.
These are great for feeding a lot of people, or if you are serving many
different meats. They are harder to find, but out there if you look.
You can even investigate the possibility of a local tortilla factory
and give them a call. Tortillas can be kept for a day or two in a
sealed refrigerated bag but beyond that they tend to crack and pick up
- Masa Harina - Masa Harina or corn flour is used to make tortillas
and tamales. If you have access to fresh tortillas there is really no
need to make them, but masa is absolutely necessary for tamales. It
usually comes in large bags, and will store well in a sealed flour bin.
If you have it around you should really try making some homemade
- Cheeses - Some cooks make a big deal over using the correct
Mexican cheeses. Although it adds to the authenticity, Mexican cheeses
are usually only available in Mexican groceries and can be quite
expensive. It has been my experience that, except for in quesadillas,
the subtle flavor differences between Mexican and a good domestic Jack
is lost among the other flavors. My only exception to this is in the
use of queso fresco, and this is discussed below.
- Domestic Cheese - Have a package of both a good quality
Monterey Jack and a Mild Cheddar or Colby on hand. My preference is for
the mild red cheese, as a sharp cheese can interfere with some of the
other flavors. For use in quesadillas and tacos, grate the cheese and
let it sit at room temperature while preparing the other dishes. This
brings out the oils and greatly enhances the flavor. The grated cheese
will keep well in a refrigerated sealed bag for about 10 days.
- Mexican Cheese - The only two Mexican cheeses that I feel make
a significant difference are Queso Fresco and what is known as
Quesadilla Cheese or Quesillo de Oaxaca. Queso Fresco is the
crumbly cheese you occasionally find, usually in minimal amounts, on
top of tacos. Queso Fresco is great for holding steamed tacos together
and the Quesadilla Cheese has a more pungent flavor than Jack Cheese.
In a pinch Feta can be substituted for Queso Fresco.
- Cream Cheese - This is the secret ingredient for making canned
Frijoles Refritos edible! Also try putting some cream cheese in an
enchilada or taco or as a substitute for sour cream in tortas.
Miscellaneous But Essential
- White Onions - Always use white onions to cook with the meats.
- Green onions - Use green onions to make salsas.
- Lettuce - If you must use lettuce for tacos, mix it with chopped,
- Oranges - To add special flavor to beef or pork, add a whole
- Avocados - Always use the Hass Avocados as they have a superior
flavor. Try to buy them ripe. However, since they are sometimes at
premium, take them as you can get them. To quickly ripen a hard
avocado, place it in your flour bin, covered completely with flour, for
about 8 hours.
- Chorizo - Chorizo is the "official" Mexican sausage, typically
made from beef or pork, a variety of red chilies, and a lot of spices
and other stuff you really don't want to know about. I prefer the beef
chorizo as it is less oily. Chorizo can be used as a main meat or
chopped, fried and added as a flavoring for just about anything from
scrambled eggs [chorizo con huevos] to burritos, quesadillas and
- Sour Cream - Sour Cream goes well in just about anything--
quesadillas, tacos, burritos, over enchiladas, etc.
- Salsas - Lets face it, there are some great commercial salsas
available and most stores will carry some homemade brands. The only
salsa which really has to be made fresh is salsa cruda.
Las Carnes: The Meats
The following eight recipes represent the basic methods I have
found successful in generating the taco stand esthetic missing from
most "tablecloth" Mexican eateries. Any of the preparations, with
perhaps the exception of the veal, can be incorporated in tacos,
burritos, enchiladas, etc., or will stand alone as a solo meat dish.
They work well as left overs with other dishes for any meal. Consider,
for example, using morning after shredded beef mixed in with scrambled
eggs with fresh made corn tortilla chips and whamo-- machaca! [Although
real machaca is made from a type of Mexican Beef Jerky called cecina ].
What was chili verde, the next day becomes a filler for quesadillas,
and so on. All of the preparations freeze well and can be used whenever
a Mex-attack hits you. With some meats, alternate recipes are offered.
In these cases, consider them to be different dishes, each with their
own unique flavors. Also don't be hesitant about combining meat dishes
in a larger meal. At a taco stand you would not hesitate ordering a
beef taco and a verde burrito so don't deprive yourself at home.
- Shredded Beef
The first thing I do when trying a new Mexican restaurant is ask if the
quesadillas are made with flour tortillas and if the tacos are made
with shredded beef. If the answer to either is "no", I am immediately
suspect of the nature of the food. A "yes" reply does not mean that you
can immediately verify the nationality of the cook. However, it is a
general clue that usually indicates that you may order with confidence.
My recipe for shredded beef was discovered by pure accident and I
thought I had stumbled across an ancient Aztec secret. Only quite
recently I have learned that, in Mexico, it is very common to cook with
pickled vegies. This method may, at first, seem a bit unorthodox, but
it yields a spicy beef which is perfect for tacos, enchiladas,
burritos, tamales, or even as a cold snack! The pureed extra vegies are
the essence of one version of enchilada sauce, and may be used with the
meat to make great 'ladas or frozen for use another day. This recipe
makes about 20 large tacos. To make more, increase all the ingredients
in equal proportions.
2 1/2 lbs. rump or any other beef cut
6 oz beer [drink the rest]
6 oz Coke™
1 11 1/2 oz jar of hot garden vegetables
1 1/2 cups of homemade pickled vegetables
with 1/2 cups of the pickling liquid
3 or 4 dried California or pasilla chilies
1 peeled orange [optional]
1/2 Tbsp. California chili powder
1/8 tsp cumino
1/8 tsp oregano
4 [or more] crushed garlic cloves
Don't be afraid to use fatty meat. Since it will be cooked beyond
recognition, the fat can be removed later and will add to the flavor
and texture while it cooks. Prepare the chilies by roasting them over
an open flame or on a grill, just until they begin to brown. Then soak
them, completely covered in hot water, for about 20 minutes or until
they are soft and pliable. When they are ready, gently slit them down
one side, rinse out the seeds, and lay them flat open on a paper towel.
Don't rub your eyes as your hands are now lethal weapons! Cut the beef
into quarters [not too small or they will be difficult to shred] and
put all the stuff in a large pot and stir it up. The orange adds a
definite sweetness which you may or not want. If you like it and are
ever stuck for an orange use 1/2 cup of orange juice. This combination
creates a very spicy filling which probably will not call for extra
salsa if used in tacos. You can cut back on the bite by eliminating the
dry spices. Add enough beer or water to just barely cover the surface
of the meat. Lay the soft chilies over the top of the meat chunks and
bring the pot to a rapid boil. Tightly cover the pot, lower the heat
and simmer about 2 hours. If you are planning other dishes for the
menu, you can work on them while the beef is cooking.
Preheat the oven to 350o. Remove the cooked meat and place it on a
large cookie sheet, reserving the liquid and vegetables. With two forks
shred the meat and arranged it neatly on the sheet so it will bake
evenly. Ladle some of the cooking liquid onto the tray and place it in
the oven. Bake the meat, turning it once, for about 1/2 hour. Keep an
eye on it so it doesn't burn. The sugar in the Coke will serve to
gently brown the meat and make it slightly crisp. In the meantime.,
continue with the preparation of the final cooking liquid.
Strain and reserve the cooking liquid from the vegies. Remove the
orange and peppers [these are usually jalapenos, and you can leave them
in if you want a rosy red ma–ana]. Puree the vegies with a bit of the
liquid and then return 1/2 of the puree back into the remaining liquid.
Save the remaining 1/2 puree for enchilada sauce [see e When the meat
is a deep brown, return it to the liquid/puree
mixture and cook it down until it is almost dry. Keep a bit of the
juice which makes the meat easier to reheat. Keep the shredded beef
covered in a warm oven until it is ready to use for whatever you what.
The exception is enchiladas. Since the enchiladas have to be cooked
anyway, it is best to let the beef cool before you try to handle it for
stuffing the tortillas.
If you prefer to custom design your own pickled vegetables you
will instantly become a master of verduras escabeche, which translates
to "pickled vegetables." Now, knowing this does not yet make you a
master. What elevates you to master status is the type and number of
chilies you use-- and if you really leave them in while cooking the
meat. It is exactly for this reason that I suggest you try making your
own at least once. The basic advantage for me is that commercial brands
do not include the red pasilla or New Mexico chilies. If you pickled
them with the mix they add more to the flavor and can be left out of
the rest of the recipe if you wish.
The process is to cook any choice of pickles, vegetables and
chilies with distilled vinegar. Seal them in a jar and let it sit as
long as you wish. The amount of each ingredient is dependent on your
preference and the size of seal jar you have. My choice of ingredients
1/4 inch slices of carrots
1/4 inch slices of dill pickles
1/2 inch slices of cauliflower
large slices of white onion
New Mexico and or pasilla chilies
whole jalepeno or serano chilies
Slice open the red chilies and gently remove the seeds and veins.
care not to rip or shred the peppers at this point. Place all the
ingredients in a pot and add enough vinegar to half cover. Bring the
vinegar to a boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes. Let the mixture
cool and then place it all in a air-tight, sealed jar. If the vegies
are not completely covered, add more vinegar.
- Ropa Vienna
A neat variation on shredded beef is what is called ropa vieja [old
clothes]. This is popular with my children because it looks so weird--
just like old shredded rags, hence, its name. But if your kids aren't
into weird looking food you may want to skip it. Simply use an uncut
flank steak for the meat and use the previous
shredded beef recipe. When it is done, shred it in long strips with
the grain using two forks, and proceed with the rest of the recipe.
There is absolutely no difference in taste-- it just looks weird.
- Carne Asada
Carne Asada literally means grilled meat, and may be served as a
traditional steak, in small strips with fried onions, green peppers,
and corn tortillas as fajitas, or chopped as a taco filling. This is
the only Mexican recipe I have come across that actually requires a
marinade. This particular marinade is serioso, as it's base is
tequila! The recipe can be made in any amount so just experiment and
adjust the marinade ingredients to the proportion of meat being used.
dried California or pasilla chilies
finely chopped garlic cloves
finely chopped white or green onion
lemon and/or lime juice
Prepare the dried chilies by soaking them, completely covered in hot
water, for about 20 minutes. You will need enough chilies to cover the
flanks. When they are soft carefully slit them open and rinse out the
seeds. Then set them, open, on a paper towel to drain.
Like Grandma's recipe for biscuits, the exact proportions for the
marinade cannot be described in proportions known to mankind. Basically
mix a lot of minced garlic, finely chopped onions with the Tequilla,
and add a little bit of lemon and/or lime juice. Use a meat pounder or
hammer and pound the meat between two pieces of wax paper until it is
about 1/4 inch thick. Rub the flank steaks on both sides with oil, then
rub them thoroughly with the marinade and let them sit several hours.
If there is not enough liquid to cover, add a bit of beer. When you
ready to cook, grill the meat on both sides as you like it. As the meat
is cooking you can place the chilies on top for extra flavor.
The meat can be eaten a la carte like a good ol' American steak,
or cut into 1 x 3 inch strips, with the grain, and used for fajitas.
The fajitas are best served with soft corn tortillas, sliced fried
onions, fried bell peppers, and the grilled red peppers. A neat way to
do this is to fry the onions and peppers in lard or oil just until they
are soft. Then arrange the meat and vegies on a round pizza tin and
keep it warm in the oven while you warm the tortillas. Then place the
tin in the middle of the table with the tortillas stacked on top and
everyone go for it!
- Chili Colorado
As a great fan of any piquant dish, I always wondered why most of the
hot foods on this planet came from the southern regions. About the time
I discovered the cure for Chili Lips, I realized it was because that is
where the chilies grow! Of course, the spices are also used to preserve
the meats as an alternative to refrigeration. There are reportedly 92
different varieties of chilies in Mexico so it is certainly no surprise
that chili is an adjective with the potential of appearing in front of
just about everything. Chili colorado means red or red-brown chili, and
the dish is just what it says, meat stew cooked with a red-brown chili
sauce. Chili Colorado is also known in Mexico as chili con carne-- not
to be confused with the commercial American recipes, usually made with
ground beef and beans. Chili lore supports two different origins of
Americanized chili con carne. One version is that it was a variation
made by the German population in south Texas. Another tale has it that
it was invented by some nuns in Mexico, and was originally called carne
con chili. I tend to discount the latter due to the fact that nuns are
usually rather simple eaters and many are also vegetarians. Of course,
maybe they just canned it and shipped to all the 7-11 stores in
America. Call it chili colorado, chili con carne, carne con chili or
the Nun's Revenge-- what we are talking about here is beef cooked in a
rich, thick, and hot chili sauce.
The basic cooking technique for chili colorado is searing chunks
of beef with onions and garlic in lard, then cook it in the sauce until
done. What makes the difference, obviously, is the sauce. There are
several ways to go about preparing a good colorado sauce, so I will
offer a couple that consistently work for me. Restaurant chili colorado
is usually quite saucy, and this is indeed how it should be. Taqueria
colorado tends to be dryer because they are used in tacos and burritos,
seldom served as a stew. You can control the amount of dryness to your
own preference by adjusting the amount of liquids, or simply by cooking
the stew to the desired consistency I usually serve chili colorado as a
stew and then use it the next day for tacos, enchiladas or burritos.
You can "sting" the chili at any point by adding a tablespoon or so of scorpion sauce. All of the versions suggested
here begin by preparing the meat the same way.
2 pounds of beef [any cut] cut into 2 inch cubes
one large onion sliced into thin rings
4-6 [or more] crushed garlic cloves
4 Tbsp lard or safflower oil [lard preferred]
Heat the lard, add the onions and garlic, and sautŽ just until the
onions begin to clear. Add the beef and sear only until most surfaces
are gray. Do not brown the meat, as this will prevent the chili flavors
from properly absorbing. When the meat is properly seared, strain off
the excess lard and place it in the sauce of your preference. Bring to
a boil, then cover tightly and simmer for at least two hours. Keep an
eye on it to check that all the liquid does not dry out. After cooking,
add a tablespoon of cornstarch, dissolved in warm water. Continue to
cook down until it reaches a desired consistency.
The Colorado Sauce:
Here is where the variations come in. No matter which recipe you
use, the Colorado sauce is made by adding the ingredients directly to
the meat pot-- no need for extra pans.
1 commercial burrito mix*
Version 1 [the "you won't believe it but try it anyway method"]
I hesitated putting this version first for fear of scaring off
anyone serious about Mexican eating. But it is simple, it works, and
one large onion sliced into thin rings
1 handful chopped fresh coriander
12 oz can of beer
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
Combine all the ingredients into the pot with the seared meat and add
only enough water to cover meat.
* I am familiar with the mixes made by Lawry and Schilling, and
I'm sure there are others. Although these are commercial mixes, they
contain the correct spices for the beginning of a great colorado sauce.
Version 2 [more authentic]
This recipe is a bit more believable but still uses a commercial
ingredient. Check out the Mexican section of your store [or visit a
Mexican market] and see if they carry canned Salsa de Chili Colorado or
Salsa Estilo. This also may appear as Red Chili Sauce or Salsa Rojo.
These products usually come in either 10 or 19 ounce cans. Once you
become familiar with your local resources you may wish to combine
different sauces to personalize your chili. The tomato sauce is
optional in case you want to sweeten up the sauce a bit.
1 large [19 oz] can of Chili Colorado sauce
4 oz. can of tomato sauce [optional]
one large onion sliced into thin rings
1 handful chopped fresh coriander
12 oz can of beer
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
Add all of the ingredients to the sauce and proceed to cook as in
1/2 cup powdered chili or paste substitute
Version 3 [Industrial Grade]
This is the real stuff- a bit more involved to prepare but
certainly authentic. This recipe requires you to make your own chili
sauce from scratch, and calls for about 1/2 cup of powdered red
chilies. Do not use commercial chili powder. Powdered pasilla or New
Mexico chili is usually easy to find. The New Mexico chili is hotter,
so choose accordingly if you have a choice. If you can't locate the
powder, substitute 8 dried chilies. Soak them in hot water until soft
and then remove the veins. If you want to live dangerously, leave in
the seeds-- this is where a good part of the heat lies. Blend the
chilies in a bit of the soaking liquid to make a smooth paste and
substitute this for the chili powder.
1/2 tsp oregano
1 tsp whole or powdered cumin
2 Tbsps flour
1 handful chopped fresh coriander
salt to taste
12 oz can of beer
After searing the beef, drain off all but about 1 1/2 tablespoons
the lard. Remove the beef, leaving as much of the onion and garlic as
possible in the pot. Turn up the heat and bring the lard to a sizzle.
Add the oregano, cumin, and flour, and cook for about 3 minutes,
stirring constantly. This will produce a light brown roux. If you are
using chili powder, mix it with 2 1/2 cups of water. If you made the
chili paste, mix it with 2 cups of water. Add the chili liquid to the
pot and cook it just until it starts to boil. Reduce the heat and cook
for another 3 or 4 minutes. Return the beef to the pot, add the beer,
fresh coriander, any extra water needed to top the beef, and cook like
before. Let the stew simmer about 1/2 hour before taste testing for
2 lbs beef chuck, cut in bite size cubes
Version 4 [Sonoran Style]
I pulled the original version of this off of The
Chili-Heads Web Page and added a few variations of my own. This
recipe takes a bit of work but I guarantee it will result in some of
the best Chili Colorado you will ever have. This is a Sonoran style
dish and in Tucson (just north of Sonora) *every* Mexican restaurant
you go to serves this dish. For variety I sometimes like to use
different combinations of chilies. A favorite is a mixture of ancho,
guajillo, New Mexico hot, pasilla and chipotle. Whatever combination
you use, the chipolte peppers are essential,
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 12 oz Mexican beer
6-8 dried chilies, break off stems and shake out seeds
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 peeled potatoes, cut into bite sizes
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp Mexican oregano (1 1/2 t if not Mexican)
1/2 Tbsp ground cumin
1/2 Tbsp ground cloves
1 1/2 Tbsp oil
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
Heat 2 Tbsp oil in heavy skillet. Add meat and cook until browned. Add
2 cups water and the beer, cover and simmer gently for 1 hour. In the
meantime . . .
Prepare chili puree. Place chilies in large saucepan and cover
with water. Put a vegetable steamer over the chilies so they stay
submerged. Bring them to a rapid boil, the cover and simmer for at
least 45 minutes. Remove the softened chilies from the heat, reserving
the liquid, place them in the vegetable steamer and rinse with cold
Now this next step may require some gloves. If you are a seasoned
chili master gloves are really not needed but what you touch afterward.
Rinse each chili in cold water, carefully slitting it open and removing
the seeds and stems. On a cutting board place the chili skin side down
and use a spoon to carefully scrape out all of the pulp. With some
chilies this will be earlier than others. Due to the size of the
chipoltes this is very difficult to do so I just remove the seeds and
stems and go for it.
Place the collected mound of pulp in a blender with about 1/2 cup
of the reserved liquid and blend into a puree- about 1 minute. Place
the puree in metal strainer and, using the spoon, push the pureed pulp
through and reserve in a bowl.
When the meat is done stir in the chili puree. Mash the salt and
garlic together to make a paste. SautŽ the chopped onion in 1 1/2 Tbsp
oil until tender. Mix in the salt/garlic paste and 1 1/2 Tbsp flour.
Stir 1 minute to get raw taste out of the flour and add mixture to
simmering beef. Add cumin, pepper and oregano. Cover and simmer 2-3
hours. or longer.
45 minute before the meat is finished simmering add the potatoes.
If a thicker sauce is desired add a bit of butter and flour rue.
Plop a pile of this on a greasy four quesadilla
and with a cold beer and I guarantee that the meaning of life will
instantly be obvious.
The word carnitas roughly translates to "little meats," and is a very
traditional pork preparation. Carnitas are wonderful with salsa cruda in soft tacos, taquitos, or solo with
quacamole and beans. In my opinion the best tamales are also made with
pork. The use of orange and lemon creates a light flavor, and the
cooking technique is almost the same as with shredded beef.
4 lb pork butt or any other port cut
12 oz Coke and 2 12 oz beers
2 peeled oranges and 1/2 peeled lemon
1/2 tsp cumino
Don't be afraid to use fatty pork. Like the shredded beef, it will
cremated and the fat can be removed later, adding to the flavor and
texture while it cooks. Put one beer and all of the other stuff in a
large pot and stir it up. If the meat is not covered, add more beer,
water or chicken broth. If you want more of a bite to the pork, add an
11 1/2 ounce jar of hot garden vegies with the liquid. Bring the pot to
a boil, cover and simmer about 2 hours. You should have one beer left
over and now is the time to drink it. If you are planning other dishes
for the menu, you can work on them while the pork is cooking.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Remove the meat after it is cooked
and place it on a large cookie sheet, reserving the liquid, fruits, and
vegetables. With two forks, separate the meat into large bite-size
pieces. Do not shred the meat but rather gently separate it into large
chunks. Ladle some of the cooking liquid onto the tray and place it in
the oven. Bake the meat, turning it once, for about 1/2 hour. Keep an
eye on it so it doesn't burn. The sugar in the Coke will serve to
gently brown the meat and make it slightly crisp. If the pork starts to
get too dry, add more of the liquid. When baked to a deep brown, wrap
the meat in tin foil and keep it warm in the oven until ready to serve.
If you prefer spicier carnitas, return the meat to the liquid and
continue to cook for another 20 or 30 minutes-- just until some of the
liquid has been absorbed.
- Chili Verde
Chili verde is a natural for sneak Mex-attacks. It is easy to prepare,
and has that very natural Mexican flavor characteristic of your
favorite South First Street taco stand. Here I think it is best to
suggest two possible recipes. Version 1 is quite pungent, with large
chucks of pork. This recipe cooks down to a dry stew that is best for
inclusion in tacos, burritos, etc. Version 2 is a bit sweeter with
smaller bites, and is best served as a stand alone stew. Of course,
Version 1 is also great solo or served over quesadillas.
1 1/2 to 2 lbs of pork
2 Tbsp. lard
2 13 ounce cans tomatillos
Two medium white onions
8 garlic cloves
1 7 oz can chopped green chilies
1 finely chopped bell pepper
juice of 1/4 lemon & 12 ounce can of beer
Cut the pork into large cubes about 2 inches square. Again, a more
fatty cut of meat is quite acceptable. Slice the onions and finely
mince the garlic. Fry them in the lard until the onions start to clear.
Add the pork and fry just until all pieces are gray. Do not brown the
pork, as this will seal the meat and the flavors will not be absorbed.
Puree the tomatillos in a blender with all of the juice. Put everything
else in a pot with the pork, onions, and garlic. If the meat is not
covered, add more beer or water. Bring the pot to a rapid boil, cover
tightly and simmer for at least two hours. If you plan on using the
verde for filling, remove the cover for the last 1/2 hour of cooking to
reduce the liquid. Check the stew regularly to prevent it from becoming
too dry. If more liquid is needed, add beer! If a thicker, but not dry,
stew is preferred, add a tablespoon of baking powder or flour dissolved
in a bit of hot water toward the final simmer. This is great the next
1 lb lean pork shoulder
2 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. lard
1 white onion
4 cloves garlic
1 7 oz can chopped green chilies
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp dry coriander
1/4 tsp cumino
This is a variation of a recipe that came to me as Mama Unser's Green
Chili Stew-- Mama Unser being the mother of the famed race-car driver,
Gary Unser. Since then I have seen a version of this recipe published
in the CHILI LOVERS' COOKBOOK [Golden West Publishers, Phoenix, AZ,
85104]. To protect me from copyright violation, you will just have to
believe that I had it first!! This is a lighter verde which is more
stewish than the previous recipe. Due to the smaller meat cuts, it is
not as suitable for bulky fillings, but like Version 1, is great over
quesadillas. I prefer the verde covered quesadillas made with white
Cut the pork into 1/4 inch cubes and dredge the meat in flour.
Melt the lard in a pot or deep skillet, and brown the meat thoroughly.
You can even go as far as frying the pork until it is crisp. I had my
first "crunchy" chili verde at the City Cafe in King City, and this
place has now become my standard stop anytime I travel Highway 101 in
Central California. I was told by the cook that, when using this
technique, the flour should be added after the pork is fried, and is
only used to thicken the stew. Next, finely chop the onion and garlic,
and cook them with meat mixture until the onion is soft. You might add
a bit of fresh coriander if a little tang is desired. If a thicker stew
is preferred, remove the cover for the final stages of the simmer.
Adobo, although not yet is well known as other Mexican meats, is
rapidly gaining popularity under the guise of tacos al pastor-- al
Pastor , roughly translating to "in the shepherd's style." Adobo, or
adobado, is a thick, red mole , or sauce, which can run the extremes
between a light, sweet piquant to something reminiscent of lava! Adobo
is commonly a uniquely spiced pork which makes an excellent filling for
just about anything. It is also found in Filipino cooking, often using
chicken or lamb as the basic meat. Pork, however, is the most popular
ingredient for red Mexican adobo. The traditional method of cooking
carne al pastor is well documented in Adventures in Mexican Cooking
[Ortho Books, San Francisco, CA 1978].
"Another way to use meat cut with the grain is to cook it
vertically on the ingenious barbecue made especially for the carne al
pastor, sold at stands. Thin steaks cut along the grain are impaled in
circular, staggered arrangement on a single spindle with a supporting
dish at the bottom. This stacked pyramid of meat may be as large as a
leg of beef.
The spindle of meat is suspended in front of a vertical charcoal
fire stacked in a "fireplace" behind the spindle. As the spindle is
turned before the fire, the cooked meat is trimmed off. The trimming
quickly turns the stack into a smooth, tapered cylinder.
My methods are not as visually elaborate but they do work well in
gringo kitchens. For this meat I'm going to again offer a couple of
different approaches. Version 1 has to be totally credited to Senora
Maria Maciel, who shared it with everyone at the 1987 Feria de la Bahia
in San Francisco. Version 2 is still a light, semi-sweet recipe--
perhaps more suited to a "sit-down" affair. Version 3 is more hard-core
and certainly more within the lava, chili-lip tradition.
ajonjoli = sesame seeds
canela = cinnamon
ajo = garlic
al gusto = fake it
If you want the English translation, and the missing
steps, you have to go to the section on Pollo
to both remind you to try this with chicken and to help you sing Cielito
Lindo and Malaque–a Salarosa at the same time.
Para pollo or carne de cerdo.
3 chilies pasillas remojados
4 onzas de ajonjoli tostado con
las semillas de los chilies
1 tomate rojo cocido
1/2 tablilla de chocolate
canela, oregano, mejorana, pimienta,
ajo y sal: al gusto
Se muele todo lo anterior, se sazono con vinagre de vino o de manzana,
y un poco de sal y azucar.
What Senora Maciel assumes you know is to boil the meat, in
moderately sized pieces, until done. Add the cooked meat to the adobo
and heat it, gently, for a few minutes. We had this with the chunks of
meat served on large, freshly made tortilla chips. This, of course,
implies that it could also make a pretty tasty taco.
This is a funkier approach to the same dish making use of chipotle or
chipocle peppers, which are roasted jalapenos. There are a couple of
different brands packaged in either adobo sauce or "escabeche", and
available in Mexican groceries or Mexican food sections of gringo
marts. Nothing can compare to chipotle peppers, so please don't try to
substitute. The only real difference in the preparation of this version
is the adobo sauce. Since the Chipotles usually come in their own
adobo, a lot of the work is done for you. This version makes smaller
amount because a little bit of Mexican fire can go a long way. If you
need more, just increase the amounts of each ingredient
To cook the Pork:
11/2 to 2 lbs pork [any cut]
1 sliced onion
4 chopped garlic cloves
6 to 8 peppercorns
Prepare and cook the meat just as in Version 1. Note that the amount of
meat has been cut but the other stuff remains the same. This is not an
error-- trust me-- have a beer!
For the adobo sauce:
Dried California or New Mexico chilies
1 7 oz can of chipotle pepper in adobo
1 tablet of Mexican chocolate
or 1 Tbsp Hershey's dry chocolate
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
Prepare the dried chilies as in version 1 and also remove the
from the Chipotles [without losing any of the sauce]. WORD OF WARNING!.
The Chipotles are very serious critters. Many uninitiated or over
enthusiastic cooks have met their match with terminal chili lips due to
these little fireballs. Each brand generates a different heat and even
the same brand can be inconsistent. Experiment with caution. Put
everything in a blender and make a smooth puree. From here on
everything is the same as version 1. So go and have another beer.
There are many wonderful Mexican chicken recipes, although I don't know
how one distinguishes a Mexican chicken from the rest of them. I should
also mention that in Mexico, turkey is a very popular substitute for
chicken, and the following recipes work equally well with both birds.
Your basic taqueria chicken recipe is extremely simple-- boil a chicken
and shred it up! While this makes perfectly suitable chicken meat for
tacos and enchiladas, I would like to suggest a couple of extra, simple
steps which takes this from the realm of "bird" to something worth
Remember kindly little Senora Maciel back of
adobo fame? Well, here is where you get the translation of her recipe
for gentle approach to this piquant mole and also reminded to try adobo
with chicken. I had this served on large tortilla chips so the same
presentation is suggested here. This can be used as part of the main
meal or as a great appetizer.
As stated above, take a bird and boil in until done.
When cooked remove the meat from the bone and shred it up into bite
sized pieces. While the bird is boiling prepare the adobo and chips.
3 pasilla chilies
4 oz sesame seeds
1/2 tablet Mexican chocolate
or 1/2 Tbsp. Hershey's dry chocolate
1 finely chopped garlic clove
a pinch* of cinnamon, oregano, marjoram
black pepper and salt
1/2 Tbsp. wine or apple vinegar
another pinch of salt and sugar
Soak the chilies in warm water for about 20 minutes,
until they are pliable. Carefully slice them open and remove and
reserve the seeds. Grind the chili seeds with the sesame seeds in a
spice grinder or metate.* In a dry skillet gently toast the ground
sesame and chili seeds, just until they start to brown. Put the
peppers, roasted seeds, and spices in a blender, with only enough water
to blend, and make a thick puree. Season with the vinegar, salt and
sugar. Cook the puree in a skillet over a medium flame until it is
I don't want to be insulting because I think everyone knows how to fry
up some chips. And, in fact, most people just buy them, ready-made, at
the grocery. However, the chips needed to properly serve the chicken
are larger than most commercial brands. In addition, after you have had
fresh made chips, you will never go back to the bagged ones.
1 bag of corn tortillas
Pile the tortillas on a cutting board and cut them into quarters-- no
smaller. Heat the oil in a large, shallow pan. Fry five or six chips at
a time, just until they begin to brown. Remove them from the oil and
set them on a paper towel to drain. They will continue to cook as they
dry, so don't over-brown them in the oil. If you plan to use salt, add
the salt while the chips are still wet. The reason for doing just a few
at a time is so the salt will stick to the chip, and also to make sure
you have an initial batch to munch on while doing the rest. This, of
course, is the reason for the salsa.
Finally. . .
Stir the shredded chicken into the adobo and heat it through for a
few minutes. Serve by arranging a few chips on a plate and topping each
one with a spoonful of sauce and a couple of pieces of chicken.
Shredded Chicken (for Tacos and Enchiladas)
This recipe is especially for taco, enchilada and tamale applications.
3 or 4 skinned chicken breasts
or other accessible parts
1/2 finely chopped onion
3-4 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 Tbsp. lard
1 cup of an enchilada sauce
or 1 cup salsa verde [pg. 50]
2-3 whole canned green chilies
cut in strips [optional]
Heat the lard and fry the onions until they start to clear. Add the
chicken and cilantro, and lightly sautŽ' just until the outside turns
white. With a slotted spoon move the chicken and as much of the
onion/cilantro/garlic mixture [hereby known as gunk] as possible. Place
the chicken and the gunk on a paper towel to drain. When dry, place the
chicken and gunk in a bowl and cover with the sauce or salsa of your
choice. Let the chicken marinade while you go have a couple of beers.
Preheat your oven to 350°. Wrap the marinated chicken, along
with some of the marinade [with the chili strips if you wish], tightly
in aluminum foil and make sure there are no leaks. If you are using
chili verde sauce, squeeze about 1/4 of a lemon on the meat before
wrapping. If you are a fresh coriander freak, a few extra pinches of
this wonderful weed will enhance the flavors. Bake the wrapped chicken
for about 35-40 minutes or to your satisfaction. When done, unwrap the
chicken, remove the bone, and gently shred the chicken and the chilies
with two forks. Don't pulverize the meat-- it should be in bite-sized
pieces rather than completely shredded like beef or machaca. Re-wrap
the chicken and place it back in the warm oven until you are ready to
use it for tacos, enchiladas, burritos or in tortas.
The Fixin's is that strange class of foods that can serve as either
Mexican condiments, side dishes or in some cases, even main dishes--
although a main dish of salsa cruda may be a bit dull! Beans can be put
in anything: You can dip anything handy in beans. Beans can be eaten
alone, beans can be eaten with beer, beans can be mixed with rice and
eaten with beer, beans can even be mixed with beer as in frijoles
borrachos, Depending on the scope of your appetite or the number of
people you plan to cook for, it is a good idea to have at least one or
two fixin's on the table.
La fruita musicale! Essential fare for a Mexican feast. For years I
lusted after the recipe used at the Super Taqueria on 10th Street in
San Jose, California. Taqueria chefs tend to be very secretive about
their methods and all I could get was a friend "No se!". My oldest
daughter also shared my passion for the these beans and one day seduced
the owner out of his secret. To quote him exactly "You take the
beans, wash them then you cook them!" Lesson learned- don't mess
with natures fruits. After years of experimenting with every
conceivable combination of spice, great beans are made by just leaving
them alone (perhaps with a bit of salt if you wish.)
1 lb. dry pinto beans
6 cups water
1 tblsp. salt or 2 tblsp.. butter (optional)
Thoroughly wash the beans removing any weird ones. Bring to a boil in
the water and cover and gently simmer at least 3 hours. If you wish to
add slat or butter do so after one hour of cooking or the beans will
- Frijoles Refritos
To set the record straight frijoles refritos does not mean Refried
Beans. According to Diane Kennedy, author of the The Cuisines of
Mexico*, the prefix re-, in this case, is used to emphasize the meaning
of fritos. The correct translation then being well-fried beans or beans
left on the heat too long due to the cook's treatment for chili lips.
So that is a bit of trivia to drop the next time you want to make
someone think you know what you're talking about at a Mexican dinner.
Of course, this could be a bunch of re jive-- take your chances! If you
believe that frijoles refritos means well-fried beans, you should have
no trouble believing that reasonable beans can be made from
commercially canned versions of the same. Every Mexican market I have
been in is well stocked with canned frijoles refritos .so it is only
logical to assume that they are really used by Mexican families.
Actually, I would like to suggest three different ways of creating a
bean dish, beginning with the more traditional method.
*The Cuisines of Mexico, New York, Harper and Row,
1/2 lb dry pinto bean or black beans
Version 1: From Scratch
1 sliced onion
2 or 3 garlic cloves
4 Tbsp. lard*
1 tsp California Chili powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1 small package of cream cheese
medium handful of jack or cheddar cheese
1 4 ounce canned chopped green California chilies or
minced jalapenos [optional]
* Substitute bacon fat only in a pinch.
Cook the beans in a large covered pot for about 2 hours. Make sure the
beans are well covered-- use at least 9 or 10 cups of water. Check
every so often to make sure the water has not evaporated, and add more
if needed. Prepare the lard by melting it in a large pan. SautŽ the
sliced onion and garlic cloves. The goal is to only flavor the lard
with the onion and garlic, so don't let the lard get too hot or
anything get brown. When the onions are transparent, remove them and
the garlic from the lard and figure out something to do with them! The
flavored lard is characteristic of San Salvadorian cooking and adds a
When the beans are cooked, strain them, leaving about 1/2 cup of
the liquid and add them to the heated lard. When you pore the beans
into the lard things are going to splatter, so take it easy.
Immediately add chili powder, cumin, and then mash about half of the
beans with something-- I use the bottom of a flat glass. Don't mash up
all of the beans as they will become too mushy. Mix the beans well so
they don't stick to the bottom of the pan when cooking. At this point
add the green or jalapeno chilies if you want a minor bean rush.
Finally, add the cream cheese and grated cheese, turn on a medium heat,
and stir until everything is melted and mixed together. Reduce the heat
to very low, continuing to cook the beans, covered, for at least 1/2
hour hour. Occasionally check that the beans aren't burning on the
bottom. If they are, you may add a bit more lard or assume they are
finished. The longer they can heat, the better they will be. They can
be kept warm covered in a dish with foil in an oven for hours.
When ready to serve, you may wish to melt a handful of jack cheese
on top of the beans by placing them under a broiler for a minute.
Another way to serve frijoles refritos is to place individual portions
on the plates, add a bit of jack or cheddar cheese on top, and heat the
plates in a hot oven until the cheese is melted. Remember, beans are
great inside tacos, quesadillas and essential to burritos.
1 large 30 oz can of cooked pinto
Version 2: From Pre-cooked Beans
This is the same basic recipe as Version 1 but saves you the time
of cooking the beans. I think the difference is insignificant but you
decide for yourself.
or chili beans-- without meat
1 sliced onion
2 or 3 garlic cloves
4 Tbsp. lard
1 tsp California chili powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1 small package of cream cheese
medium handful of jack or
1 7 ounce chopped canned green chilies
or minced jalapenos [optional]
Prepare the lard in the San Salvadorian manner by melting it in a large
pan. Lightly saute the sliced onion and garlic cloves. The goal is to
only flavor the lard with the onion and garlic, so don't let anything
get brown. Remove the onions and garlic, and place the cooked beans,
with their liquid, in the hot lard, taking caution against splattering.
Immediately add chili powder and cumin, and then mash about half of the
beans in the pan, mixing well. Again, take care not to mash up all of
the beans as they will become too mushy. For a bean rush, add the
chilies at this point. Finally, add the cream and grated cheese, turn
on a medium heat and stir until everything is melted and mixed
together. Reduce the heat to very low and continue to cook the beans,
covered, for an hour or more. Occasionally check that the beans aren't
burning on the bottom. If they are you may add a bit more lard or
assume they are finished. The longer they can heat the better they will
be. Refer to Version 1 for serving suggestions.
1 30 oz can of Rosarita "Spicy' Frijoles Refritos
Version 3: From Frijoles Refritos
This recipe is still another variation on the basic technique but
requires no extra spices and is a bit milder. If the Spicy beans are
not available add the chili and cumin as in Version 2.
1 sliced onion
2 or 3 garlic cloves
2 or 3 Tbsp. lard
1 small package of cream cheese
medium handful of jack or cheddar cheese
canned green chilies
or minced jalapenos [optional]
Prepare the lard in the San Salvadorian manner by melting it in a large
pan. Lightly sautŽ the sliced onion and garlic cloves. The goal is to
only flavor the lard with the onion and garlic so don't let anything
get brown. Remove the onions and garlic and place the cooked beans,
with their liquid, in the hot lard, taking caution against splattering.
If you prefer the milder taste, leave the chilies out. But if you want
to fake chili lips so you can drink some beer, at least play with the
little devils at this point! I always have a can of beer sitting on the
counter for general appearances. Add the cream cheese and grated
cheese, turn on a medium heat, and stir until everything is melted and
mixed together. Since these beans are precooked no extra simmering is
required. However, the longer they can heat without burning the better
they will be. Refer to Version 1 for serving suggestions.
- Frijoles Borrachos
Frijoles Borrachos are definitely the King of Beans, and I have to
admit that this is a slight variation of a recipe I found in Diane
Kennedy's wonderful book, The Cuisines of Mexico* . I had been making
Frijoles Borrachos for many years before I actually had some at a
Mexican eatery. To refer to San Antonio's La Fogata as an "eatery" is
more than a gross understatement, but their recipe for these wonderful
stewed fruits confirmed that I was on the right track. Borrachos
roughly translates to drunken or looped and usually refers to the
common south of the border technique of cooking something in beer. Come
to think of it, just about everything in this book is borrachos- how
about author borrachos? I actually think the secret to the great flavor
of this dish is the pork rind and the fresh coriander. These lusty
beans keep well and like their cousins, frijoles refritos, go with
anything-- but especially try them with chili verde.
To cook the basic beans:
1/4 lb pork rind or trimmed pork fat
1/2 lb pinto beans
1/2 sliced onion
4 crushed garlic cloves
You can get the little bit of rind or pork fat from your butcher and if
he has any class he won't charge you. Cut the rind into quarters and
put all the stuff in a large pot with about 6 cups of water. Bring it
to a rapid boil, cover and simmer for about 2 hours. It is important to
keep liquid in the pot. Do not drain the liquid when the beans are
finished. For extra liquid, use water or beer. Remove the pork from the
beans when they are finished cooking.
To Borracho the beans:
3 strips of bacon
2 Tbsp. lard
2 medium peeled and seeded tomatoes
1 cup canned tomatoes
1 Tbsp. canned chopped green chilies, serano chilies or minced jalapenos
1/2 cup rinsed and finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 12 ounce can of beer
salt to taste
Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook it in the lard until it is
slightly browned. Add the tomatoes [with the juice if canned], chilies,
and coriander. Cook the mixture for about 10 minutes. Add this mixture,
and the beer, to the cooked beans. Simmer, covered, for about 1/2 hour
[remember to remove the pork rind]. At this point, add only enough salt
to bring the flavors to the surface. Take care that the beans remain
soupy, not dry or pasty like frijoles refritos. Add more beer or water
- Arroz a la Mexicana
Spanish rice is sort of like Thanksgiving dressing-- its a great
stuffer or great as a separate dish. Rice can be added to burritos, as
an accompaniment for quesadillas, or even used with cheese to make
vegetarian tacos. Admittedly, there are some reasonable packaged
Spanish rice products available, but the authentic stuff adds a few
extra tastes. A word on the rice-- use a good quality, unconverted long
grain rice. If you can get Persian or Basmati rice, give it a try. Rice
is stored in talc and keeps a very long time. You will vastly increase
the flavor by taking the time to rinse the rice with cold water until
the water is clear. This takes 5 or 6 rinses but at least you can be
assured you are not eating powdered rock!
1 cup rice
1/3 cup chopped white onion
2-3 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 to 1/2 Tbsp. pasilla or New Mexico chili powder
2 peeled, seeded a finely chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup shelled peas
2 Tbsp. chopped pimiento
1/3 cup peanut oil
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the rice until it is
golden, about 10 minutes. Drain the oil from the rice. Add the onion,
garlic, cumin, and chili powder an sautŽ, continually stirring, for
about two minutes. Add the chicken stock, peas, pimiento, and tomatoes.
Cook the mixture, covered, until all the liquid is absorbed.
- Arroz Verde
Unlike the rather universal Spanish or red rice recipe, green rice
exists in as many versions as there are people who cook it. In fact, I
think the original recipe was to grab anything green that didn't move
or smell weird and throw it in.
1 cup rice long grain
1/3 cup chopped white onion
4 sliced green onions
2 Tbsp. chopped or 1 whole green chili
1 chopped bell pepper
1 handful of parsley sprigs
2-3 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 Tbsp. chopped pimiento
1/3 cup peanut oil
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup beer
1/2 lb finely grated mild cheddar or jack cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander
Clean the rice as described for arroz a la Mexicana. Heat the oil in a
large frying pan and sautŽ the rice until it starts to turn gold. In
the meantime, put all the vegies and spices in a blender with a little
of the broth and blend it into a smooth puree. When the rice is ready,
add the puree to the pan, mix well and cook another two or three
minutes. Add the rest of the broth and beer. Bring the rice to a boil,
cover, reduce the heat and cook about 15 minutes. Do not let the rice
get too dry. If it seems to be drying too fast, add beer!
The addition of a cheese and coriander mixture is optional. In
taquerias the cheese is usually not used as it makes the rice more
difficult to serve over longer periods of time. As a home dish, I do
recommend adding the cheese the first time and seeing how you like it.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Transfer the rice to a greased
baking dish. toss the cheese and coriander together and sprinkle on top
of the rice. Bake, uncovered for about 15 minutes or until the cheese
is evenly melted. I have also seen similar dishes with the cheese and
coriander mixed and baked into the rice.
A MOLE or more correctly "molli" is roughly translated as a mixture,
and quaca-mole or avocado mixture certainly is that. The mixture can
range from plain, mushed up avocados to such a collection of
ingredients that the avocado really serves as only a binding to hold
everything together! Taqueria quacamole tends to be very basic, usually
consisting of no more than the avocados, lemon or lime juice, and a
little salt. I would like to offer this basic recipe then suggest a
list of "additives" which are all things that you will probably have
leftover from other dishes. This way, the cook can mix and match
according to availability and the whim of the moment.
2 ripe* Haas avocados
1 1/2 tsp. lemon or lime juice
1/4 tsp. pasilla chili powder
1/4 tsp. salt
Mix all the stuff together, mashing the avocado [save the pit]. If you
prefer to have chunky guacamole, mix and mash with a fork. For smoother
moles, it is easiest to throw everything in a blender or processor--
don't over blend or it will get soupy. A characteristic of avocados is
that the pulp will rapidly turn brown when exposed to air. The lemon or
lime juice will prohibit this a bit. Another trick is to put the
mixture in a bowl with the pit placed in the middle-- makes a nice
decoration also. The only other thing you can do is to cover and
refrigerate the guacamole but still it won't last too long.
Any number of the following ingredients can be used by mixing them with
the basic mole. You may wish to start with proportionally larger
batches of the mole so the avocado flavor is prominent.
more chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
fresh minced cilantro [coriander]
finely chopped white or green onions
diced canned California green chilies
finely chopped and seeded serano or jalapeno chilis
peeled, seeded and chopped tomato
- Salsa Cruda
I know it is household practice to put shredded lettuce and chopped
tomatoes on tacos but I have seen this in only very a few taquerias.
This might be okay for fried, ground beef tacos but this collection of
recipes does not include ground beef tacos. The "cruda" of this salsa
refers to the fact that it is uncooked. I make up a batch and keep it
in a tightly covered container for a couple of days. Beyond that it
gets too limp and watery to use. Salsa cruda is usually served as a
side dish to carnitas but works wonders on any meat dish and tacos of
any sort. You can even serve the salsa on good old American steaks!
Like it's verde cousin guacamole, this basic recipe can be expanded
with practically anything that happens to be laying around. Especially
consider using hotter chilies to give you an excuse for having a beer.
1 peeled, seeded and chopped tomato
1 bunch [about six] green onions
1/4 cup canned diced California
or serano chilies [seeded]
1 bunch minced fresh cilantro
1/4 tsp. lemon juice and a pinch of salt
Finely chop the green onions, including a good portion of the green
stem. Mix everything together in a bowl. This recipe can be
proportionately expanded, but remember that the salsa only keeps a
couple of days.
- Salsa Verde
I mentioned somewhere that there are some very acceptable, and in many
cases, excellent, salsas available as a commercial product. I do have
to qualify that a bit as I was referring to the red salsas. I have yet
to find a truly robust green salsa outside a home or good taco stand.
My preference is salsa verde over salsa rojo as the bite of the
tomatillos mixed with the tang of the garlic seems to generate a deep
flavor characteristic of only the green salsas. Salsa verde is best
when it is fresh but will keep refrigerated and covered for about a
week. It is important to serve the salsa at room temperature. When it
is cold it looses its rich flavor. Salsa is typically served on meats,
but give it a try inside or on top of a quesadilla or over scrambled
eggs. [Try salsa on pizza, but don't tell anyone you read about it in a
1 10 oz can pureed tomatillos
2 or 3 chopped jalapenos
2 to 4 finely chopped garlic cloves
1/4 finely chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp. lime juice
1 4 oz can of diced California chilies
a pinch of sugar and salt to taste
Puree the tomatillos in a blender and add everything else! If it is too
thick, add a bit of beer. If you want a thicker salsa, the mixture can
be cooked in about 2 tablespoons of peanut oil.
- Scorpion Sauce
Now I have to admit that there is probably nothing in Mexico call
Scorpion Sauce and I actually stole this name from Huntley Dent's The
Feast of Sante Fe.* I have had this type of salsa served at
taquerias on several occasions and have been making my own version for
some years. This rather thick "sauce" is extremely hot and I use it
both as a dip and to "sting" any dish that needs that extra handshake
from hell. Therefore the name "Scorpion Sauce" seemed perfect- thank
you Mr. Hunt. My original recipe calls for New Mexico chilies For a
more barbecued flavor, and heat,, substitute a couple of seeded
Chipotles [with the marinade] and two grilled, softened and seeded New
Mexico, Pasilla, or California chilies. This salsa will keep a long
time in the refrigerator because nothing will dare to come near it.
More salsas are suggested in the section on
6 soaked and seeded dried chilies of your choice
or substitute 2 of the chilies with 2 canned Chipotles
[remove seeds-- keep the marinade]
4 crushed garlic cloves
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
Add all the stuff to a blender and puree until very smooth. If more
liquid is needed, use some of the water used to soak the chilies.
Now we get down to business. All of the possibilities are in place and
it is time to assemble everything into any number of glorious packages
to be consumed with masses of beer and fresh limes. Remember that the
basis of the Mexican home cooking is that anything goes with anything
and the following suggestions are just that-- basic suggestions for
putting together taco stand food. There are more techniques than there
are recipes. The ones I use are presented [sort of] in order of their
complexity-- except for the Tortas, and they were added as an
afterthought. Experiment with everything. Don't be concerned with
serving pork with beef or having tacos with burritos, everything works.
Just cook as you would order down on South First Street! Even consider
the possibility of creating hybrid dishes. This is done all the time in
white tablecloth Mexican restaurants. The chef will deep fry a burrito
and call it a chimichanga then charge you double for it!
Now if you spend some time watching a typical taqueria ritual you
will find that these guys move like lightning. A first rate Ninjo grill
chef has nothing on a good taqueria assembly line. If one person is
doing the assembly, every move comes from years of experience reaching
for a handful of this and that and then reaching for a beer. If there
are several persons involved, each has his own particular task which
must performed with speed, assurance and all kinds of weird stuff on
their hands. Part of the art of Mexican peasant food comes from the
fact that a bit of the green salsa gets mixed in with the sour cream
and some of the white cheese ends up in the chili verde. My point here
is that you are to have fun with this stuff. As long as your hands are
clean, why not be sloppy? You just might discover a new recipe!
Ah, the quesadilla-- the unsung quickie queen of taqueria cuisine! Like
the great American grilled cheese sandwich, the taste of a quesadilla
is somehow much more than the sum of its parts. In its basic form, a
quesadilla is no more than a grilled, cheese-filled flour or corn
Exhaustive research into the genealogy of this elusive Latino lady
indicates that it exists as the Southwestern quesadilla, enchiladas del
Sanctuario, "Mexican turnovers," and even as a form of lemon-cheese
tart, also known as a quesadilla! But when it comes to the munchies, a
fried quesadilla is a tortilla filled with cheese and practically
anything else that sounds good. Served cut in slices like a pizza for
hor d'oeuvres or covered and stuffed for a main meal, the quesadilla is
unmatched in its ease of preparation.
The basic cooking technique involves no more than placing a
lightly buttered or larded tortilla on a grill and waiting a few
moments until it becomes soft enough to fold. Put a handful of your
favorite cheese on the tortilla and fold it in half, then grill it
lightly on both sides. As simple as that seems, dealing with our
finicky "queen" raises many options and some regal decisions must be
made. First of all does, one use a four or corn tortilla? I am told
that the original quesadilla was made of a flour tortilla, stuffed with
cheese, sealed and deep-fried in oil or lard. Some quesadilla
connoisseurs claim that the only authentic quesadilla is one which is
deep-fried. If this is the case, there are an awful lot of taquerias
out there selling counterfeits! My own particular choice for the
tortilla is flour. Flour tortillas seem to grill much better and
certainly grills faster than the corn. The flour tortilla is also more
pliable, making it easier to scoop the frijoles, guacamole, etc.
Actually, the real reason is that one can usually find very large
[burrito size] flour tortillas so you can have more food in a single
quesadilla. Many of my friends seem to prefer corn tortillas
quesadillas stuffed with various meats. The flavor of the corn is
usually well complemented by meats. For a great treat, try a corn
quesadilla covered with your favorite syrup-- probably not very
authentically Mexican, but who cares!
Another preparation technique is to very lightly l butter
a flour tortilla and then quickly rinse the butter side with cold
water. This will produce a dryer quesadilla with considerably less fat.
What of the cheeses? First grate the cheese and let it stand at
room temperature for a while. This will get the oils running and really
does make a difference in the taste. The choice of cheese depends on
your mood, availability, and maybe on what you are going to serve it
with. I tend to use either mild cheddar or Colby for red cheese and
Monterey Jack for white cheese. I suggest a mild red cheese so that it
is distinctive from the sharper cheese normally used in enchiladas and
tacos. I have found that red cheese quesadillas complement beef dishes
while white cheese quesadillas are better with pork. There is a special
"quesadilla cheese" available in Mexican markets. I have tried this and
found it to be quite expensive and not all that special. If you want to
try something a bit different use Queso Nudo or Queso Oaxaca [quesillo
de Oaxaca]], sometimes known as "Mexican string cheese." If you can't
find this, use equal amounts of mozzarella and Jack cheese.
Now our regal queen, like all ladies of stature, requires a
suitable wardrobe. Quesadillas are typically topped with frijoles,
guacamole, salsa, and/or sour cream. Try placing two quesadillas in a
large plate and covering them with chili colorado [use red cheese] or
chili verde [use white cheese]. If you want a lighter preparation, just
cover the quesadillas with a bit of the colorado or verde sauce. You
can also fill them with meats of any type, onions, tomatoes, chilies,
and olives-- creating an obese but delightful dish. Another option is
to add a couple of tablespoons of your favorite salsa to the quesadilla
as it is cooking. As one side is frying, spread the salsa on the top of
the quesadilla. Turn the beauty over and actually fry the salsa into
the tortilla. Repeat for the un-salsad side, if desired.
If the quesadilla is the reigning queen of taqueria technology, then
the taco must be the king! Maybe this regal anthropomorphism is
slightly stretched, but at least the implication of gender, taco and
quesadilla, is present. I am told that the taco has its origin as an
appetizer or antojito, meaning "little whim or urge". If the word
"taco" could be translated it would mean "snack". My own initial
memories of tacos are as large, flour tortilla pockets of meat, sold
from roadside stands near the Mexicali border. In Mexico and in a few
American taquerias the tacos are, in fact, smaller than the grocery
story variety. A typical antojito taco is made from a 4 inch tortilla,
often referred to as a tortilla chica.. If you have several
different innerds* available, these smaller tortillas are great because
one can sample more varieties and combination of stuffings. The 4
inchers are difficult to find, but do occasionally show up in markets.
I perform selective surgery on the standard 6 inch corn tortillas by
trimming a 1 inch strip from around the circumference. This produces
the 4 inch antojito size, and the strips then are used to make fried
chips. An alternative is to make your own tortillas, and it is worth it
if you have the time-- any Mexican cookbook will provide both corn
[maiz] and flour [harina] recipes. If you use store-bought corn
tortillas, look for "white tortillas." These are made of bleached corn
and have a lighter taste. Some stores have fresh delivered tortillas on
certain days-- check it out and plan your Mex-Attack appropriately. If
a Mexican market is convenient , shop there for the tortillas-- fresh
tortillas make a significant difference!
* My editor says there is no such word as "innerds", but he fell
for the story about Taco the Indian So now there
is a word called "innerds."
Of course, the correct taco is just as elusive as any other
Mexican dish and differs tremendously from eater to cook to region.
Tacos can be made of either flour or corn tortillas. Tacos can be fried
[hard], steamed or heated [soft], stuffed with an endless variety of
meats from shredded beef [machaca] to brains [sesos], Tacos can be
vegetarian, using only cheeses, beans, rice, and chilies. Tacos can be
served open faced, much like a tostada or folded in the traditional
manner. This then defines the taco as a tortilla with stuff in it! And
by this definition a quesadilla is really a fried cheese taco, and a
baked taco is an enchilada, and a burrito is a rolled taco! And now we
understand why the taco is king! There currently is an international
feud in progress concerning the soft taco versus the fried or hard
taco. Most yuppie happy-hour-hang-out-havens serving "Mexican"
appetizers will make sure that their customers understand that they are
getting the original soft tacos-- as if this is some new ethnic
discovery. Most, but not all, taquerias take soft tacos for granted.
Yuppie feuds aside, the fact is that different regions of Mexico
vary tremendously in their preferences between hard and soft tacos, as
well as the use of flour versus corn tortillas. These are indeed
significant questions and I feel that we should sit down and have a
beer and discuss, in detail, the ramifications of these parameters. Or
maybe we should sit down and have a beer and discuss what is meant by
"parameters". Or maybe we should just sit down and have a beer followed
by a couple of tacos, and then decide. This way we don't need to know
what "parameters" means. There are some considerations which may be
influential to your choice if you are new to this. Corn tortillas are
heavier and sturdier-- flour tortillas are lighter but are bigger!! I
find that the lighter meats and vegies go well with flour tortillas, as
they do not intrude on the tastes of the individual ingredients as
much. I f you plan to stuff the tacos with a lot of tomatoes and
lettuce, the flour tortillas compliment the coolness of the vegies
better than corn. Corn tortillas have a great flavor that is well
complimented by the spicier innerds such as adobo and shredded beef.
Fried tortillas are great when they can be served and eaten
immediately. If they sit, around for even a few minutes, they get stiff
and cold. And cold grease is not my idea of a great meal. In fact, warm
grease in not too appetizing and this indicates my preferences about
how to prepare tacos. Fried tacos, however, may be the correct choice
if the meat is a bit liquidy, as is sometimes the case with chili verde
Pre-Production - Soft Tacos:
Perhaps the first taco ritual involved sitting at a table,
scooping up meats and beans with fresh, warm tortillas-- much like our
famous bread and gravy rituals we used to get our hands slapped for as
children. Since Mexican culture does not condone beating their
children, the soft taco has endured through the ages and is my favorite
format. There are several methods for the preparation of soft tacos,
each with a slightly different result. First of all, start with fresh
corn tortillas (get the white tortillas if available). The easiest
method is to simply lay the tortilla on a warm grill or pan until it is
heated and somewhat pliable. The only disadvantage is the number of
tortillas you can warm is limited by grill space. An alternative is to
place several tortillas on a large cookie sheet any warm them in the
oven. Tortillas can be kept warm at the table [somewhat] by keeping
them in a covered casserole dish. Another method, and my preference, is
to place the tortilla on a hot grill, top it with a bit of cheese, and
cover it with a pan lid. Let it steam as its own liquid evaporates and
until the cheese is melted. This is a nice technique as the melted
cheese will keep the tortilla warm longer. I've seen instant steamers
used in several taquerias, but my attempts with home steaming have only
produced things best described as Mexican diapers.
Soft tacos cannot be pre-assembled and are best dealt with on an
individual basis-- which is the best way in any case. One possibility
for serving guest, however, is to serve the taco filled but open-faced,
resembling a tostada. The salsas and other Layer 3
extras are added at the table and the tacos is folded by the
Hard, or fried tacos are more of an American norm and probably
more suited to large group consumption. I think, however, that we all
have had the unfortunate experience of taking our first bite into a
hard taco, only to have it disintegrate, depositing its entire contents
on our lap. This, of course, is referred to as a lap taco [taco de
regazo? ]. Hard tacos can be dealt with if properly prepared-- to
re-quote a famous Mexican proverb from Diana Kennedy*, "no deben
tronar" (they must not thunder) -- although I'm not sure if this refers
to tacos or beans! There are two things that matter when creating a
reasonable hard taco- the oil or lard and the folding technique. The
oil must be very hot so the tortilla fries quickly. A low heat will
result in a oil soaked tortilla which cools very quickly and tastes
like something that came from under your car. A technique for achieving
the proper temperature is to put one or two drops of water in a pan or
skillet (use the heaviest possible pan you have) and then add no more
than 1 inch of oil or lard. Turn the flame to high and when the
sputtering and spitting stops, the oil is ready. To fry the tortilla a
set of tongs is necessary. It can also be done with a pair of
chopsticks but I would not recommend this for beginners. Grab the
tortilla by the edge with the tongs and slide it into the oil. Keep
hold of the tortilla and let it set in the oil for about three seconds.
Taking care not to rip the tortilla, gently lift it out of the oil and
turn it over, sliding it back into the oil. Immediately lift the edge
you are holding with the tongs out of the oil and fold it back over on
itself, holding the elevated half about 2 inches above the surface of
the oil. Fry for between 3 and 7 seconds [no more], release the top
edge, grab the emerged edge, flip the tortilla and fry the other edge
in the same manner, holding the fried half out of the oil. Three
seconds of frying per side produces a relatively soft tortilla and the
seven second fry generates a crisper result-- in any case, do not over
This will produce a perfect fried taco with just the right fold
for your choice of fillings. Place the inverted tortilla on a paper
towel to drain for a minute and you are ready to assemble. Fried
tortillas can be kept warm for a short time in a covered basket lined
with napkins. They can also be kept in a warm oven by hanging them over
the oven rack.
Post-Production and Assembly
As discussed in Taco Lore, this creature can contain just about
anything you wish. A delicious vegie taco can be made of cheeses,
avocados, green chilies and cilantro. Bean tacos, a corn tortilla
stuffed with frijoles refritos, rice, and cheese are wonderful. Or you
can become as carnivorous as you wish with any of the beef, pork, lamb
or chicken concoctions suggested in this collection. I tend to
construct tacos in layers. The first thing that goes in is really meant
to soak up the juices of whatever else goes on top. The middle layer is
the body of the taco, providing the main flavor. The top layer is the
extras, usually a light vegetable with chilies or salsa to provide the
Layer 1: This layer provides a "bed" for the main ingredients to
sit on, absorbing any extra liquids and, of course, providing some
extra input to the taste. If you are using soft tacos with melted
cheese, just consider the cheese as the first layer, although you may
consider adding some diced or sliced green chilies. Slices of softened
and seeded New Mexico or California chilies in the bottom [or top] also
provide a familiar tang. If the tortilla doesn't have melted cheese,
try adding a small spoonful of queso fresco or Monterey jack. Once out
of desperation I even used parmesan in Layer 1 and have used it again
on many occasions.
Layer 2: To each his own! Try anything and everything-- .shredded
beef, carnitas, chili verde or colorado, adobo of pork, lamb or
chicken, etc. The only consideration is to avoid as much liquid from
the meat as possible. Although a serious taco eater will usually
develop a technique of holding the taco with the little finger in the
rear fold of the tortilla. This acts as a dam, holding the innerds
Layer 3: The final layer is largely
determined by whatever will
complement the two previous layers and this is a matter of preference.
I will, however, offer a couple of points for consideration. If you add
salsa or red chili put it on top of the meat. The meat is what you are
trying to spice up, not the cheeses or vegetables. Red salsa goes best
with beef and lamb and green salsa and green chilies go best with pork
Beware of building a compost pile on top of the taco. I have been
served tacos that contain so much lettuce and sliced tomato that it
begins to resemble a Mexican Victory Garden. The vegies are meant to
add as much texture as flavor so don't overdo it. Instead of plain
lettuce try mixing fresh chopped coriander with the lettuce. This
really freshens up the taste. If you want to get really fancy add a
couple of slices of avocado. An authentic alternate to the lettuce and
tomato is salsa cruda. This combination of onion,
chilies, and coriander usually requires nothing else except perhaps an
Extra cheese can be used as a final layer. Quite frankly, I tend
to pack the cheese in to keep the other stuff from falling out, thus
avoiding the legendary lap taco. The choice of cheeses is yours but I
tend to stick to the 'white for pork and chicken, red for everything
else' format. A pinch or so of queso fresco or queso anejo is great to
top off your creation.
If you have ever been to Los Angeles' famous Olivera Street, I'm sure
you are familiar with the small, rolled tacos deep frying in cauldrons
of oil. My first introduction to taquitos was as a musician in San
Diego during the early 1960s. Every night, after a gig, we would pile
in any available car and go to a small Mexican drive-through where we
could buy two of these tortilla tubes of wonder for a quarter. Today
these simple little nibbles are very popular on Mexican menus as
flautas [meaning flutes], and usually stuffed with chicken Under the
guise of flautas, the taquito is usually so smothered in sour cream and
guacamole that the essence of taco is lost. I prefer the original
taquito format-- a small corn tortilla, rolled with whatever is handy,
deep fried to a crispy brown, and served immediately.
You can use regular size corn tortillas, but I prefer the 4 inch,
mini-tortillas, if you can find them. To assemble a taquito, warm the
tortilla very quickly over a flame on a grill, just so it is pliable
and easy to roll. Place a bit of your choice of meat and/or cheese on
the lower half of the tortilla and roll it tightly into a tube. Stick a
toothpick through the rolled tortilla to hold it closed while it is
frying. Heat oil in a pan large enough to fry 3 or 4 taquitos at time.
The oil should be hot enough so the tortilla cooks quickly, without
absorbing any liquid. Put the rolled tortillas in the hot oil, turning
them once. While they are frying prepare the next batch. When they are
golden brown, remove them for the oil and place on a paper towel to
drain. As they are drying, sprinkle with a bit of parmesan or queso
fresco. When they are dry, remove the toothpick, and eat them as soon
as possible. A good red salsa is essential for the proper enjoyment of
taquitos. Sour cream and guacamole are acceptable if kept under control.
In some segments of our American culture "B and B" stands for
Benedictine and Brandy. In more relevant segments of our society "B and
B", or more properly "B & B", unmistakably refers to Burritos n'
Beer. Although the burrito is the American national trademark of
taqueria cuisine, it is also somewhat of an enigma-- a food of rather
eclectic genealogy, questionable etymology and hybrid nationality. The
burrito is at best described as a creature somewhere between a stuffed
and rolled quesadilla and a dry enchilada, whose name means "small
jack-ass." Its origin is shunned by many Mexicans, claimed by most
Americans, and is indigenous to taco stands! The majority of my travels
in Mexico have been limited to border towns where one can buy a burrito
on every corner. But I have been told that the further one forages into
Mexico, the rarer the famous burrito becomes. When I asked for a
burrito in Puerto Vallarta they thought I wanted to rent a dune buggy!
I can only speculate what I would have got if I had ordered a burrito
grande, as this properly translates to "a large, little jack-ass."
Elena Zelayeta, an authoritative master of Mexican cuisine, chose not
to include the burrito in her book, Elena's Secrets of Mexican Cooking*
but does cite it as a California favorite in her Elena's Favorite Foods
California Style **!!! Two sources I have referred to in attempting to
trace the burrito's genealogy state that it is no more than a type of
taco made with wheat flour tortillas and referred to as "burro" in most
of eastern Mexico. But whatever these burrito-things are, I have yet to
see a taqueria that doesn't serve them. In fact, the quality of many
taquerias is often measured by their burritos. The Burrito King in Los
Angeles and the Super Taqueria in San Jose are two examples of
taquerias renown for miles on the solely on the basis of their
burritos. The only thing really necessary to the creation of a burrito
is a large flour tortilla [never corn] and some beans. Many cookbooks
say something to the effect of "simply roll the beans, cheese and your
favorite meat . . . ". The fallacy here is the word "simply." The key
to a great burrito is how to get all the goodies in and still do a roll
which will hold it all together. I will talk about "rollin' the burro"
after we consider the inside story.
Stuffin' the Burro:
As previously stated, the basic burrito is a handful of beans and
cheese rolled up in a flour tortilla. Frijoles refritos or frijoles
borrachos work equally well. If you use frijoles borrachos, take care
not to get too much liquid or the tortilla will get soggy and fall
apart. My preference for cheese in burritos is a good jack or Mexican
white cheese and this is especially true if you add pork or chicken.
With beef you may prefer a red cheese such as a sharp cheddar. If you
are also having quesadillas, another consideration is a different
cheese for each dish, adding variety. Another innerd found in a burrito
is rice. Either arroz a la Mexicana or arroz verde is fine, but again,
the arroz verde will go best with chili verde or chicken tacos. Don't
go overboard on the rice as the basic flavor of a burrito comes from
the beans and cheese. If you want to attempt the burrito grande use
beans, cheese, rice, meat, and a couple of slices of avocado. Another
way to create this "large, little jackass" is to drink a lot of Mexican
beer and tequila! I realized that "large" and "little" are mutually
exclusive but if you get into a state of burrito grande you don't
really care. Just don't get so borrachoed that you can't properly "roll
the burro." If you want an extra kick add salsa to the inside of the
burrito-- never the outside. The salsa is meant to flavor the innerds,
not the tortilla.
Rollin' the Burro:
Although a burrito can be made from virtually any size flour
tortilla, I recommend using the large "burrito size" 10 inchers. They
are much easier to roll and hold more stuff. The key to a good roll is
to have a pliable tortilla. You can apply any other techniques used
with soft tacos to soften the critter up. I actually prefer to lightly
butter the tortilla and set it on a warm grill for a few seconds. Then
fill the tortilla with the buttered side down. In this manner, the
outside of the burrito will not harden while being kept warm in the
oven. The basic roll is illustrated below. First spread a couple of
tablespoons of beans on the lower half. I actually prefer frijoles
refritos as they act as sort of a seal, holding in any juices from the
meat. Next add your choice of meat [if any], followed by a palm full of
cheese and, if desired, avocado. Remember to add any desired salsa at
this point. Keep all of these innerds centered on the lower half of the
tortilla. As illustrated below, roll, do not fold, the lower half of
the tortilla, with the innards up, leaving the top half still flat.
Fold the two outer edge flaps in toward the center, then complete
rolling the tortilla forming a neat package.
If you used lightly buttered tortillas, the burritos will stay warm in
an oven for about 10 minutes before they start to dry. If you need to
keep them warm for longer periods, I would suggest wrapping them
individually in aluminum foil. If this is the case, don't use liquid
meat or beans as they will fall apart. If you want to get sort' Ex- or
gringos, try making a wet burrito. After assembling the burrito, cover
it with the sauce from the meat you are using or any one of the
enchilada sauces discussed in the next section. Top it with grated
cheese(s), and stick it in a hot oven until the cheese melts. The basic
point of taqueria cuisine, however, is that you pick it up and eat it
with your hands and this is rather difficult with a "wet, hot, large,
Enchiladas are not typical taqueria food because they are inefficient
to make in individual servings and not very portable. I am, however,
including them because they are the great food compactor of Mexican
cuisine. Whatever you have left over, make enchiladas with it. And
don't limit the innards to Mexican stuff-- after-Thanksgiving Turkey
enchiladas are a great way to finish off the leftovers. At the same
time don't hesitate combining different things. A good enchilada sauce
can be the ultimate equalizer, blending the flavors of otherwise
contrasting dishes. If you make too much of any of any of the Mexican
meats, use them to stuff a bunch of enchiladas. Put them, three or four
at a time, neatly rolled in a sealed freezer bag. When you wake up in
the morning and find a Ex-attack in process, simply take a bag out of
the freezer and set it on the sink. By lunch the "ladders will be
thawed and can be easily finished by heating them in tomato sauce,
covered with cheese.
In Mexico, the enchilada is usually no more than a softened corn
or flour tortilla, dipped in a rich chili sauce and stuffed with cheese
and raw chopped onions. I have seen Mexican recipes for more elegant
approaches to the enchilada with various meat, vegetables, and sauces
which could compete with the finest delicate French sauce recipes. My
approach to enchiladas makes absolutely no pretenses about being
delicate. They don't quite sing Malaguena Salarosa, but they are
robust, demanding massive consumption of beer.
- The Sauces
The first thing to remember about enchilada sauce is to make plenty of
it. You need it to dip the tortillas, and to completely cover the
assembled, stuffed tortillas so they won't dry out when baked. I have
found that some very good sauces can be made by starting with a plain
tomato sauce. The most basic recipe, and the one most favored by many
cooks, is to simmer a large garlic clove in the tomato sauce for an
hour or so, taking care not to burn. I have been told to then discard
the garlic but I can usually find some use for it. If you are using a
highly spiced meat for the enchiladas, you may wish to stop production
at this point. Plain tomato sauce with garlic is excellent with
something like shredded beef enchiladas. If you are more daring in your
enchilada explorations then read on. I use the basic technique of
adding something to tomato sauce and the something can be just about
anything that comes to mind. My something list ranges from chili to
nuts, so let me offer a couple of suggestions. You can also sting any
of these recipes with scorpion sauce.
The reserved cooked hot vegetables
Salsa con Hair
from the shredded beef recipe
1 12 oz can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon peanut butter
This is my favorite, and goes best with shredded beef. The essential
ingredient, in fact, is the leftover, cooked hot vegetables used to
prepare my recipe for shredded beef. If you want "extra hair", leave
the jalapenos in-- if your tastes are a bit more sensitive, I would
suggest picking them out. Place the cooked vegies, along with a
teaspoon of peanut butter and a bit of tomato sauce, in a blender and
puree the mixture. Pour the puree and remaining tomato sauce into a
sauce pan. Cover and simmer about an hour without burning.
Son of Salsa con Hair
This version is the same as its father but add a small can of
commercial red chili sauce or chili colorado sauce. If you can't find a
commercial chili or colorado sauce use a couple of dried and roasted
red California chilies Soak the chilies in hot water for about 1/2 hour
then remove the seeds. But them in a blender with some tomato sauce and
make a puree to be added to the remaining sauce.
1 12 oz can tomato sauce
Other Son of Salsa con Hair
Substitute the tomato sauce with a combination of red chili sauce
and colorado sauce. Due to the pungency of the combined sauces you may
wish to eliminate the hot vegies.
3 large cloves garlic
1/4 inch stick cinnamon
a pinch of oregano
1 tablet Mexican chocolate
or 1 tsp. Hershey's Coco [optional]
2 Tbsp lard
Due to the use of chocolate, this might even qualify as a mole. This,
however, is not the goopy chocolate mole served on fowl dishes, but a
much lighter sauce for mild enchiladas. Blend everything, except the
tomato sauce, into a smooth puree and cook in the melted lard for about
5 minutes. Continue to stir the sauce so the chocolate does not burn.
Add the tomato sauce and continue to simmer over a low flame for about
1/2 hour. You can add bite to this usually delicate sauce with some
scorpion sauce, or by adding a couple of blended chipotles to the
1 large quartered white onion
Verde Enchilada Sauce
This is a light sauce that goes well with chili verde or pollo.
It is also great with cheese enchiladas made with Monterey jack and
2 peeled tomatoes
1 4 oz can chopped green chilies
1 quartered bell pepper
3 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. lard
1/2 cup chicken stock or broth
2 cups sour cream
Put the onion, tomato, chilies, pepper and garlic in a blender or
processor and blend until smooth. Add the mixture to the heated lard
and cook on a high heat for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and
stir in the sour cream. When using this sauce cut back on the baking
heat and/or time to prevent burning the cream.
The Assembly Line
There are two basic "formats" for enchiladas-- rolled or flat. The
rolled enchiladas are assembled and baked in a rectangle dish. The
flat, stacked enchiladas, are also known as Sonaran-style enchiladas,
and are more popular in Texas and New Mexico. These are also know as
Montezuma Pie or Budin' Azteca, which roughly translates to Aztec
Pudding. This format resembles a stack of pancakes and is usually baked
in a round flat dish.
No matter what style you prefer, putting together the 'ladas can
be a mess if your space is not well organized. The basic process is to
very quickly heat a tortilla in oil or lard, dip it in some sauce, and
then put them together. The trick is to get the tortilla from the oil
to the sauce to the assembly point without leaving a trail. Also, have
all your innerds within reach when you get ready for the assembly.
To get things ready, heat about 1/4 inch of oil or lard in a pan
large enough to accommodate a flat corn tortilla. Pour a bit of the
enchilada sauce in a pie pan and have it as close to the pan of lard as
possible. Set this up in advance so the sauce can cool as the assemble
is done strictly with the hands. With a pair of tongs hold the tortilla
by the edge, grabbing enough surface so it won't tear when pliable.
When the lard is hot, quickly dip the tortilla. Still holding the
tortilla with the tongs, reverse direction and dip the other side. If
the lard is hot this will be enough to make the tortilla pliable.
Immediately place the tortilla in the pan of sauce, again coating both
sides. I prefer to stack 3 or 4 tortillas in the sauce before beginning
the assembly. This gives them a chance to cool and cuts down on the
number of times you have to rinse your hands between dipping and
Enchiladas are typically made from corn tortillas but there is no
reason one can't use flour. This, in fact, is my preference when using
chili verde and the verde sauce. The only precaution is that the flour
tortillas are very easy to tear after they are wet. An alternate method
is to lightly grill them with butter instead of dipping them in lard.
Take care, however, that they don't become stiff. In southewestern
states such as New Mexico and Arizona "blue corn enchiladas" are quite
common. The blue corn tortilla is made from a sturdier corn variety,
which is really more purple than blue. I'm not convinced that the taste
is much different, but it definitely has a stronger texture. Blue
tortillas can sometimes be found in health food stores if you want to
give them a try.
For Montezuma pie, the assembly is done in
the dish. Use a
buttered dish to prevent sticking after they are baked. The only
essential ingredient is grated cheese and raw chopped onion. Simply
alternate layers of "sauced" tortillas, cheese, onions, and any meat
you wish. Again, don't limit your choices to the meats presented here.
You can make things interesting by alternating different kinds of
cheeses such as jack and cheddar. Also consider the options of adding
slices of avocado, diced olives, sliced green chilies, or even a
sprinkling of crumpled, cooked beef chorizo. Once the "pie" has a
sufficient number of layers, pour on the rest of the sauce, cover with
grated red or white cheese and bake, covered if possible, at 350°
or about 1/2 hour or until completely heated.
My "stock" filling is as follows:
Rolled enchiladas involve a bit more production. Butter a
rectangular baking dish. Make sure the dish is at least as wide as the
length of a rolled tortilla. A 12 x 8 size will accommodate about 8
enchiladas. Lay the "sauced" tortilla open on a cutting board and have
all the innerds ready. Now instead of using a additive approach to the
innerds, I am going to suggest the full treatment. Items can then be
eliminated as desired. If there are so much innerds as to prevent a
complete rolling, you will have to overlap two "sauced" tortillas as
choice of meat
finely sliced white onion
grated jack cheese
one slice of avocado
a few sprinkles of cooked beef chorizo
a strip of canned green chili
a few fresh cilantro leaves [if not used in the meat]
Lay the ingredients on the bottom half of the tortilla[s], bringing
them out as close to the edge as possible. This is done so a large
centered "pile" is not made, which inhibits rolling. Roll the tortilla
up from the bottom and over the innerds forming a tight tube. Proceed
with the rest of the tortillas until the dish is full. Pour the
remaining sauce over the top, taking care to cover all the surfaces and
ends of the tortillas so they won't stiffen when baked. I like to
sprinkle some chopped olives on the top for an extra bit of flavor. Top
with grated white or red cheese and bake, covered if possible, in a
350° oven for about 1/2 hour. When done, remove the dish from the
oven and let sit for about 10 minutes to allow the melted cheese to
set. Remove each 'lada with a spatula. The leftovers will keep in the
refrigerator and are just as good the next day.
If Mexico has anything comparable in function to the American hot-dog,
it has to be the tamal, or tamale. The tamale is the standard fiesta
food and large cans of these steam-baked bundles of corn bread-filled
bunches of anything are usually found anytime there is a large
gathering of people. In some South American countries the word tamal
actually means bundle. Tamales have not yet found there way into a lot
of tacos stands this side of the border for the simple reason that they
are somewhat time-consuming to make. They are, however, quite popular
as a street vendor item, sold from food carts in many Hispanic areas.
The tamale is, indeed, a labor of love but the advantage is that
dozens of these critters can be made at one time and frozen until they
are needed. In fact, as a child I thought tamale meant "tomorrow"
because they were always made at least a day ahead of time! Like the
enchilada, the tamale is also a handy food compactor. The only possible
consistent description for the tamale is that it is a steamed corn
flour bun with something (sometimes) in it! The "something" can be
anything you want. In Mexico there are sweet breakfast tamales known as
tamalitos, tamales wrapped in corn husks, tamales wrapped in banana
leaves, tamales filled with beef, pork, veal, venison, chicken and
tamales filled with nothing (the tamale blanco). The corn flour used
usually used for tamales is called masa or nixtamal. Masa translates to
"mass" or "dough" and there are, in fact, other kinds of masa in
addition to corn flour. Used in the context of tamale, masa is
understood to mean corn flour or masa harina.
In my home the day after Thanksgiving is usually spent making
masses of what has come to be known as November Tamales. Leftover
turkey makes wonderful tamale innerds and reduces the possibility of
turkey sandwich overload, which is so common during the last part of
I suggest you try tamales when you have a suitable Mexican meat
leftover. This recipe will produce about two dozen small tamales and I
sincerely suggest you double it the next time.
1 package corn husks
1/2 cup lard
2 cups masa harina
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp. pasilla or New Mexico chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
stuffing of your choice
There are many ways to design and construct a tamale and I suggest
taking the easy way out. My technique produces small, folded tamales
which are simple to construct and their size means you can eat more of
them. Once you have an available stuffing, there are only three stages
to tamale assembly; 1) preparing the husks, 2) preparing the masa, and
3) stuffing, folding and steaming the husks. There is no need to heat
the stuffing, as it all gets steamed in the final stage.
The dry corn husks, or hojas, can be purchased in packages in virtually
any grocery store. These packages contain a surprising number of husks,
so start with only one. Let the entire contents of the packages sit in
hot water for about 1/2 an hour or even longer if possible. Then gently
separate each husk and soak them in hot water for at least another
hour. They must be very pliable for proper folding. Take care not to
tear any of the husks as you need them as large and intact as possible.
Now don't tell anyone I said to do this, but if it is not possible to
find the corn husks you can roll the tamale in tin foil or oven proof
wrap. If you get criticized for doing this, rip this page out of the
book before you lend it to anyone.
As the hojas are soaking, prepare the masa by placing the corn flour,
baking powder, chili powder and salt in a large bowl. Using your
fingers, slowly add the broth, mixing the four to make a soft dough.
The reason the use of the fingers is essential is so they get real
sticky and there is less chance of dropping a beer. Using a small bowl
or food processor, beat the lard until it is very fluffy. Add the lard
to the masa and beat or process until it has a soft, spongy texture.
Place a warm, damp cloth over the bowl of masa until you are ready to
This step is an exercise in Mexican Zen - often referred to as the Tamales
Tang. It is boring, tedious, hypnotic and works best as a two
person operation-- one for the stuffing/folding and one for watching
and drinking beer. The only trick is to make sure the hojas are very
pliable so they fold easily and do not break or rip. After the hojas
are soft they must be thoroughly dry before the are stuffed. Otherwise
the extra moisture will turn the masa into paste. Set the husks upright
against a corner of the sink and let them drain. Before each one is
used , wipe it off with a towel. reserved dozen pliable hojas for
lining the steamer and making the ties.
Peel off several dozen strips about 1/8 thick from each reserved
hoja. These will be used to tie the folded tamales. If you find they
are not long enough, tie two of them together. Doing a bunch of these
in advance will make the Tamale Tango go a bit smoother.
Don't use the commercial grocery store monster tamales as models.
Most tamales are rather petite, designed to be consumed in mass
quantity. Try to make them the size of logs requires a couple of hojas
per tamales and a lot of patience. Lay the softened husk flat opened on
a work-space. Take a tablespoon of the masa and place it on the bottom
half of the husk. With the back of the spoon, gently spread the dough
out to the bottom and both edges. Next, add a bit of your choice of
filling to the middle of the masa. The common error is trying to fit
too much into the tamale. These are one or two bite versions and are
much smaller than the grocery store "hot tamales". Fold the two outer
edges over toward the middle of the masa and filling. Press the husk
gently, just enough to make it stay folded. Next, fold the bottom of
the filled husk up, leaving the tail of the leave sticking out.
The last step is to simply fold the top of the husk down, over the
To cook the tamales you will need a large metal steamer. This is a
three to four gallon pot with an open basket to hold the tamales above
the boiling water. Add only enough water to a level slightly below the
bottom of the basket. Place a nickel (not a dime or penny- they won't
work) in the water on the bottom of the steamer (I'll explain this in a
second.) Open a couple of spare hojas and line the bottom of the
basket. Place the folded tamales open side up in the steamer. They do
not have to be completely vertical but don't put any in upside down.
Place the entire steamer over a high flame and bring the water to
a boil. Put on the cover and reduce the fire to a simmer. Now if you
listen carefully you will hear a soft rattling in the steamer -- yep --
its the nickel. This is not a secret flavoring ingredient but rather a
way to monitor the water. If you boil out all of the water the nickel
stops rattling. Clever eh? Just open the steamer, pout more agua down
the step, return to boiling, reduce to simmer, return the lid and go
have a beer or two. The steamer process should take about two hours. I
have had the same "tamale nickel" on a shelf over my sink for over
This last recipe is not really a recipe, because a torta is no more
than a sandwich. A close translation for "torta" is paddie. and is
possibly related to the Italian "tortallini", meaning a kind of hat.
I've never seen a "recipe" for a sandwich and I have never seen a real
recipe for a torta. But at the same time, I've seen very few taquerias
without tortas. So I thought I should include it just to cover all of
the bases. Tortas are traditionally made with a special Mexican bread
called teleras. A small, split French dinner roll works just as
well. Tortas are best served warm, so wrap some rolls in foil and stick
them in the oven before assembly. Even better, lightly butter the split
roll and prepare it in the manner of Texas Toast. To do this, simply
place the rolls, buttered-side down, on a hot grill or frying pan.
Cover so no moisture can escape and grill about 1 minute. This manner
of grilling will soften the roll and create a nicer texture.
a small split French dinner roll
any meat of your choice
any cheese of your choice
sour cream or cream cheese
Optional: lettuce, sliced tomato
sliced onions, green chilies
How to make a Tort:
Take any or all of the above stuff and make a sandwich!
Fiesta y Adios
By now, you are probably either full, suffering eye strain or drunk!
But, we have explored the bowels of taco stand cuisine, learned to
have, at least, a love-hate relationship with lard, and discovered a
few things about chilies and large, small jack-asses. I think
everything presented here will get you started on the road to turning
your kitchen into a first-class taco bar. I suggest, at this point, you
put yourself to the test and have a feast. Invite two or three couples
over for a good old fashion Mexican dinner and try things out. Now,
this can be a massive operation and very confusing it not organized
with a little forethought. Let me suggest a couple of possible menus
and procedures that will probably insure a good time for all.
The ploy is to get your guests to do most of the assembly and lead
them to believe that they are having fun. Remember that the basic
premise is that anything goes in a taco and the only significant
difference between tacos, enchiladas, burritos, etc., is how and what
you put around the meats, beans and fixin's'. The other important point
it to prepare things in advance so you don't have to spend the last
three hours before your guests arrive making food. The cooking process,
due to constant taste testing, may dull your appetite. It is important
for the cook to be as relaxed, hungry, and sober as the guests.
- Fiesta Uno
American eating customs for years have demanded Margaritas with Mexican
food. I will yield to this ritual, but let me suggest an alternate
beverage which is very similar to the Margarita and packs just as much
of a whallop. Don't be too skeptical about this as I can guarantee it
will be a hit. When I was first told of this recipe my response was,
"That sounds like a really dumb drink!" The source and name of this
thing is lost to the annals of drinking too many of them. In my kitchen
it has been re-dubbed in honor of my original response, the Dum.
To make about four medium Dums:
1 medium can of frozen limeade
the limeade contain full of tequila
1 12 oz. light Pilsner or Lager beer
Blend everything together and serve over ice. The Dum can be served
just as a Margarita, complete with salted glass rim.
For the fiestas have the appetizers scattered about and
accessible. Place the a la carte items on your kitchen table or bar and
invite your guests to construct the platas of their choice!
- Red Salsa [buy it at the store]
- Salsa Verde
- Scorpion Sauce
- Fresh Chips
- Traditional Beans (for dipping)
- Margaritas, Dums and/or Mexican Beer
A La Carte:
- Frijoles Borrachos
- Flour Quesadillas
- Shredded Beef
- Chili Verde
- #1- Hard or Soft Beef Taco, Chili Verde, Beans
- #2- Chili Verde, Beef Burrito, Beans
- #3- Chili Verde Burrito, Quesadilla, Beans
- #4- Beef Burrito, Hard or Soft Chili Verde Tacos, Quesadilla
- #5- Bean and Cheese Burrito, Quesadilla
- #6- Al Gusto and Beer
Now, this looks like a massive menu for a home meal, and it is.
It is also quite easy to put together by using a little organization
and having your guests do their own assembly. And a major part of the
burden is solved by the fact that most of the stuff is better the next
day. As the rituals of Mexican cooking require constant tasting and
chili lip therapy, the food preparation tends to dull your appetite and
your senses, To help insure that you are in the same festive mood and
state of mind as your guests, let me suggest some steps to follow in
basic feast preparation. As you become more and more familiar with the
cooking steps you will develop your own methods and rituals.
1. The day before (or even two) prepare the shredded beef, chili
verde and the beans. With all three items do not complete the final
cooking stage. Leave the meats and beans with their liquid and do not
cook them down. You can reserve the pickled vegetables from the beef
for future use in enchiladas. Cover the dishes and keep them
refrigerated until the next day. If you have time, make some scorpion
sauce and keep it refrigerated in a covered bowl or jar.
2. The morning of the dinner:
- A. Remove the meats and beans and let set, covered, at room
- B. Grate about 1/2 pound each of red cheese and jack cheese. Keep
the cheeses in separate plastic bags, at room temperature, all day.
- C. Make a batch of salsa cruda and keep it refrigerated, in a
- D. Cut up the corn tortillas for chips and keep refrigerated in a
3. A couple of hours before guests arrive:
- A. Put the meats and beans back on the heat and cook down to the
desired consistency. Keep your eyes on things and do not them anything
burn or get too dry. If you plan on making enchiladas in the near
future, reserve a couple of cups of the beef liquid at this time.
- B. Make the guacamole and keep it covered, and refrigerated, with
- C. Butter the flour tortillas for the quesadillas. Add the
cheeses (red or jack), fold them and keep covered between two plates
until ready to fry.
- D. Fry the chips, place in a paper or cloth-covered basket, cover
with a napkin and keep in a warm spot.
- E. Put the salsa and cheeses, along with some queso fresco for
the tacos, in appropriate size bowls for serving.
When everyone arrives set out the salsa, guacamole chips and tell them
where the beer is. About 1/2 hour before you want to eat, heat the corn
and flour tortillas, keeping them wrapped in foil or in a taco warmer
in the oven. At this point, fry the quesadillas and also keep them well
covered in a warm oven.
4. Preparing the Assembly Line:
Here is where Tom Sawyer gets Huck Finn to paint the fence (or
was it the other way 'round?) The game is to set up al of the
preparations in a way that your guests assume the responsibility of
putting together their meal according to whatever they want to do.
Since anyone has the option of a taco, burrito or meat plate, set
things up so those options are convenient to assemble. On a table or
bar set up a progressive choice of selections and condiments, perhaps
in the following manner:
At the front end of the line set a pile of plates and forks, the
warm tortillas (flour for burritos and corn for tacos) and the
quesadillas. The next stage should be the meat dishes so your guests
can begin assembly of tacos and burritos. Follow this with the beans
for assembly in burritos or as a side dish, followed by the salsas,
cheeses and remaining guacamole. Provide a brief commentary on how to
assemble the options and have everyone dig in. You may even wish to be
bold enough to be the first through the line so you can demonstrate
various techniques. This, of course, has nothing to do with the fact
that you also are the first to eat. Initially stay close to the food
line and be prepared for some questions. Also do not be surprised at
all when someone comes up with a combination you didn't think of.
- Fiesta Dos
This dinner is based around a variety of tacos and an enchilada dish
made from the leftover beef and vegies from Fiesta Uno.
- Scorpion Sauce
- Red Salsa [buy some]
- Salsa Verde
- Fresh Chips
- Margaritas and/or Mexican Beer
A La Carte:
- Arroz a la Mexicana
- Beef Enchiladas
- Hard and Soft Tacos
- Carnitas Carnitas
- Adobo Lamb Adobo
- Refried Frijoles Refritos
I suggest you use lamb for the adobo tacos because of the pork
carnitas. On the other hand, the adobo is quite spicy and carnitas and
pork adobo will be very different-- you decide.
The preparation is just like the first feast. Make the meats a
day in advance and do all of the fixin's' the next. The only difference
is that you should make the frijoles refritos the same day and keep
them covered in a warm oven. The Arroz de la Mexicana will also be fine
kept covered in the oven. For the enchiladas, leftover shredded beef
(or anything else) from Fiesta Uno. If you have to you can make a new
batch of shredded beef. The enchiladas can be made the previous day but
are really better if you make them the day of the meal. Do not warm or
heat them until just before serving. If you let them sit in a warm oven
for too long the cheese will get weird.
Set everything else up like before, only this time you might
want to give people the option of hard or soft tacos. This feast is
very good as an outdoor theme party. In this case use the barbecue to
keep the meat and beans warm, and to warm the soft tacos.
- Fiesta Tres and Beyond
Al gusto mi amigo. Consider using all the leftovers from Fiesta Dos for
Burritos. If you do a little planning I'm sure you can get into a state
of perpetual motion with this food. The Chinese have a culinary
tradition called thousand year soup in which a soup stock is kept going
over a low head for years. Its contents change according to what the
evening's leftovers happen to be. If anybody has success with 3 month
enchiladas, please let me know. I started this book with the statement
that Mexican food is the basis for all intelligent life in the
universe. Who knows? It may also be the source of unlimited natural
energy, and I don't care to take that line of logic any further.
So the possibilities are really endless. I've been using the
recipes and techniques in this book for many years and have yet to
really duplicate a meal for my guests. The taqueria connoisseur is, by
nature, a free thinker, so mix and match every conceivable possibility.
It will probably taste wonderful, and if it doesn't it will at least
taste great. Get on a regular schedule of hunting for taquerias and
trying them out. Watch the cooks and servers and ask them questions. A
good technique for taqueria tracking is to call up any local Mexican
food distributor or tortilla factory and see if you can get some
locations of their customers. If, heaven forbid, you happen to live in
an area ungraced by good taco stands, then you always have this book.
BUEN PROVECHO Y ADIOS
Index of Recipes and Things