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Volume 40 Issue 2 • May 6-12, 2010
now in our 40th season

May I interest you in Chilaquiles?

by Jenn Farmer
Chef, Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm 

May is one of my favorite months for many reasons, but mainly because of Cinco de Mayo.  It commemorates the Mexican Army’s unlikely victory over French Troops in Puebla, Mexico (May 5, 1862).  In the United States, it has become primarily an excuse to drink beer and eat good food.  In fact, most of my friends from Mexico, do not celebrate it nor have they ever heard of it.  For me it reminds me of the many years I spent “out West,” and how much I miss authentic Mexican food.  I usually end up celebrating Cinco de Mayo for the entire month of May.  Let me illustrate how very much this holiday means to me; I like it so much I actually asked my doctor if I could deliver my baby on this beloved holiday.  I tried to convince him that since my son was due only a couple weeks later on May 15th (which incidentally was during the Nantucket Wine Festival, throwing a big wrench into things for me!) that it would be a great idea.  Doctor Bradley in all his wisdom dismissed the idea, and my healthy boy arrived as planned on the 15th.  I still haven’t forgiven my physician...yet.

Oddly enough, Mexican food has become comfort food for me.  Sometimes I will make tamales, menudo, or chilaquiles just to soothe my soul (or cure a hangover!).  I fondly think of the many days or late nights spent at friends’ homes learning how to make perfect masa for tortillas or how to make their version of salsa or tamales, from their grandmothers or aunts.  I was so fortunate to be taken in by several cooks and their families.  The food and life lessons they taught me were invaluable.  Many of the male cooks I worked with also took over the role as my overprotective brothers/fathers.  I remember several times being asked to dance at a club or fiesta, and having three or four of my best male friends surround me, and quickly escort the unsuspecting, person away.  They didn’t even give me a chance to decline or accept the invitation.  I started to feel like a celebrity, almost presidential.  It was nice, but needless to say I went out on very few dates, thanks to their “protection.”

When I was working in Las Vegas, I would frequently join the other line cooks for a couple beers (cerveza!) and wind down.  Vegas proved to be very hot.  The restaurant where I worked was one of the top rated ones in town, so the job was pretty demanding.  It was necessary to cool down after a long shift.  More often than not a couple beers would lead us (the whole kitchen crew) to an after hours event.  These parties were always at some tiny, run down apartment, located in a really bad section of town.  This is where one (or several) of my co-workers lived and cooked.  Often there was no real kitchen in these little apartments, and we would all sit on the little twin beds, with shabby covers, passing each other beers and listening to old Mexican ballads.  Inevitably, we would cook.  We would use whatever utensils, and cookware was at hand, and often were left to eat our menudo or ceviche with a ladle or spatula—whatever we could get our hands on.  We spent all evening making top-rated food in a spotless show kitchen that was silver and gold gilded.  Then we ate some of the tastiest food I have ever been privileged to enjoy at 3 am from a hot plate in a one-room apartment!  What a dichotomy.

It was even more exciting when I was invited over to big meals or fiestas.  That is when I would really learn how to roll authentic tamales and make the finest salsa or mole.  It was incredible, and little did I know I was learning more about food outside of the restaurant, than in some big fancy, star rated joint!

One of my favorite foods to this day is one of the easiest.  Chilaquiles (Chee lah KEE lays). I love them for breakfast and could probably eat them daily.  In fact I always order them if they are on the menu at a restaurant.  Chilaquiles are very traditional Mexican food.  They can be made with a red or green sauce (rarely mole) and are usually fairly spicy.  It is a very economical dish to make too, since it can use old corn chips or corn tortillas as the base of the dish, and scraps of leftover chicken, chorizo, or other meat may be added to it.  Usually eaten at breakfast or brunch, chilaquiles are often served with scrambled eggs on top. 

Caesar Martin’s Chilaquiles Verde
 
1 dozen corn tortillas (fried or uncooked, stale and dried out)
1 / 2 cup cooking oil (optional)
1 pound tomatillos (husk removed and rinsed)
1 jalapeño (stem removed)
2 cloves garlic
1 quart chicken stock
A few sprigs cilantro, chopped
1 / 2 cup onion, small diced
Queso fresco
2 eggs, scrambled (optional)

To make green sauce:  Cook tomatillos with jalapeño and garlic in chicken stock for about 10 min. (until tomatillos are fairly soft).  Strain and reserve the broth.  Puree the tomatillos, garlic, and jalapeño.  Add a cup or so of the liquid to aid in pureeing it, and continue to add broth until it is saucy, not watery.

If using un-cooked tortillas, sauté them in oil briefly.  Put the chips into a large sauté pan or sauce pan, and add the verde sauce to it.  Cook briefly, stirring a little, making sure they are all coated in sauce, but not breaking up the chips too much.  Taste and season if necessary.  When the chips become completely soggy it is ready.  Serve topped with crumbled queso fresco, chopped cilantro, and onions.  Top with scrambled eggs if using.  This dish is also good with a side of beans.  Serves 4. 

Guacamole is another great dish I learned to make when I was “Out West.”  It is great stand alone with chips, or as a garnish on tacos, nachos, chilaquiles etc. 

Guacamole

2 ripe avocados
1 T.  Minced garlic
1-2 Serrano peppers, minced (remove seeds if you don’t like hot)
2 T cilantro, finely chopped
2 T fresh lime juice (or more if you are like me and love the tartness!)
Half of a tomato, finely diced
Salt
Pepper

Carefully cut and remove pit from the avocado.  Scoop out the pulp and mash with a fork in a bowl.  Add rest of ingredients and mix together, season as you wish.  Serves 2-3

Enjoy your month of May, I hope it will be full of flowers, and sunshine, and perhaps some cerveza, tacos, enchiladas, carnitas, chalupas….

 

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