Dia de los Muertos and Halloween celebrations, albeit different, will both be in full swing next week on both sides of US Mexican border. I have many fond memories of Dia de los Muertos in Mexico as well as in the US sate of New Mexico. The custom of a gathering of family and friends to celebrate together with the spirits of the departed dates back to pre-Columbian cultures in Central America. Typically paths are lined with marigolds to guide the living and the departed to candle lit fiestas held in cemeteries where local foods abound, beer and tequila flows freely, and corridos ballads thread though the air until the wee hours of the morning.
For more on Dia de los Muertos and a recipe for a Mexican roasted Pumpkin Soup (click here).
This time of year is also chile harvest season and what better way to use freshly picked green chilies than in a hearty Sopa de Maiz y Chile Verde Con Pollo. Mexican in origin but also a classic in Northern New Mexico where the New Mexico chiles reign supreme. A perfect offering for a Dia de los Muertos supper!
In Mexico fresh green poblano chilies would be used for this soup. In New Mexico Roasted fresh green New Mexico chilies would be used. If neither are available where you live use fresh green jalapeños which, when flame roasted, have a wonderful full bodied flavor and robust heat.
If you live in the US frozen flame roasted New Mexico green chilies are an alternative, though expensive. They are available online
As tempting as canned green chilies might be, I would suggest avoiding them. They are virtually tasteless.
Sopa de Maiz y chile Verde con Pollo ( Corn and Green Chile Chicken Soup) makes 2 ½ quarts
For the chicken: Ideally, cook the chicken the day before you plan to make the soup.
- 1 whole chicken
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 3 celery ribs, diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
Rinse the chicken and place it in a large stock pot. Add enough water to the pot to generously cover the chicken. Add the onions, garlic, celery, bay leaves, and black peppercorns.
Place the pot on the stove top over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to a low simmer and cook the chicken for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the chicken.
Remove the chicken from the pot and set both the chicken and the stock aside to cool.
Once the chicken is cool enough to handle pull the meat off the bones in generous chunks and place them in a bowl. Leaving the chicken in larger pieces will give the soup a more substantial profile and tenderer meat when reheated.
Toss all the bones into the stock pot and return the pot to the heat. Bring the contents to a low boil and cook until the stock is reduced by half.
Remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool for 20 minutes or so. Then strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a large container and set aside to cool to room temperature. Discard the bones and solids after straining the stock.
Once the stock is cooled, cover the container with the lid and refrigerate overnight.
The following morning skim off the fat that has solidified on the surface of the stock and save for another use or discard it.
For the soup:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 3 celery ribs, finely diced
- 1 head garlic, cloves separated, roasted in a dry skillet until lightly colored, skin removed, and minced
- 2 quarts prepared chicken stock
- 2 ears of corn, husks and silk removed, and grilled
- 4-5 fresh New Mexico green chilies ( or 3 large fresh green poblano chilies, or 6-8 fresh green jalapeno chilies) flame roasted, skin and seeds removed, and cut into thin strips and diced
- 2 cups home cooked white beans (or canned), drained
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crumbled
- ¼ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves crumbled
- 1 ¾ teaspoons sea salt + more to taste
- 1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons minced parsley leaves
Place the olive oil and butter in a stock pot set over medium heat. Swirl the pan until the butter is melted and combined with the oil. Add the onions and celery and lower the heat to medium low and cook, stirring now and again until the onions and celery are very soft and translucent, about, 20 minutes.
Add the garlic and continue to cook another 5 minutes. Then add the stock. Once the stock begins to boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, adding the beans after 15 minutes. Be sure to stir from time to time so the beans do not stick to the bottom of the pot.
While the soup is simmering, grill the whole corn cobs over an open flame until the kernels are evenly colored and a deeper yellow. Then cut the kernels off the cob and set them aside in a bowl to use later.
Scrape the cobs with the back of a pairing knife to extract the corn milk from the cobs and transfer the scrapings to the simmering stock pot.
Likewise, while the soup continues to cook flame roast the chilies until the skins are evenly blistered. Transfer them to a bowl, seal with cling film, and let them sweat until cool enough to handle. Then slip off the blistered skin. Cut the chilies in half, remove the seeds and veins, slice into strips, and cut the strips into half inch pieces and set aside.
Once the ingredients in the stock pot are cooked remove the pot from the heat and cool for a few minutes. Then blend the contents of the pot with a hand held immersion blender until the mixture is smooth.
Return the pot to to the stove top set over medium heat and add the corn kernels, green chilies, oregano, marjoram, sage, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Stir and cook the soup for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently as the pureed beans would otherwise settle to the bottom of the pot and scorch.
Put the pulled boiled chicken in a pot with a cup or so of water and reheat until the chicken is hot.
Taste the soup broth and in the stock pot and add salt as needed. Stir in the parsley and cook another couple of minutes. Then add the hot pulled chicken to the pot and stir to combine. Bring to a low simmer just before you are ready to serve.
- dried red chile rajas (strips)
- tostada corn chips
- sour cream
- lime wedges
To make the dried red chile rajas, place 8 dried red chilies in a dry skillet set over medium low heat. Using a metal spatula, press the chilies
against the bottom of the skillet briefly then flip them and repeat, then promptly remove them from the skillet to a cutting board.
While they are still warm and pliable, cut the chilies in to very thin strips lengthwise. Then halve the strips crosswise. Heat a little olive oil in a small pan and briefly fry the rajas and set them aside to cool.
Ladle the soup into shallow soup bowls, mounding the chicken in the center. Stick several tostatda chips around the chicken. Add a dollop of sour cream in the center and scatter the red chile rajas over the sour cream. Serve with fresh lime wedges placed on the table.
Feliz Cinco de Mayo!
Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s first step towards independence and is celebrated throughout Mexico and North America every year on the 5th of May. For more on the back story of that momentous day (click here).
For this year’s Cinco de Mayo I wanted to focus on influences on Mexican cuisine that began with Hernan Cotes’ arrival on the Mexican gulf coast in 1519. There he established the port of Veracruz which was to be his launching point for the conquest of the Mexico. Marching inland Cortes captured the Aztec capital of Tenochttitlan and claimed Mexico for the Spanish crown in 1520.
After a little more than three centuries Spanish rule finally came to an end following a momentous victory in the Franco-Mexican war. A brief French occupation of Mexico followed but ended with a ragtag battle of Puebla on the 5th of May in 1862. The Cinco de Mayo defeat of the French in Puebla has been celebrated every year since.
With Cortes came many culinary influences from Spain, Cuba, as well as from West Africa communities in the Caribbean that forever changed native Mexican cooking. This is particularly apparent in the cuisines of the Gulf coast of Mexico as well as Caribbean coast of the Yucatan.
The recipes that follow reflect the melding of influences that make Mexican food so fascinating. There is a colorful story told with every bite!
- Mexican Citrus Chicken
- Flame Roasted Peppers & Jalapenos
- Yellow Rice
- Black Beans
Mexican Citrus Chicken: serves 4
- 4 chicken legs with thigh attached
- 2 lemons (or 3 limes), zest peeled into large strips and juiced
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 12 garlic cloves peeled and very thinly sliced
- 8 sun dried tomatoes, reconstituted, and thinly sliced into small strips
- fresh marjoram leaves, about 2 tablespoons
- 4 teaspoons capers (optional)
- 2 onions, peeled and cut into thinly sliced rings
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Generously salt and pepper the chicken and press the seasoning onto the chicken and set aside.
Using a deep baking dish, combine the zest strips, lemon (or lime) juice, olive oil, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, marjoram leaves, and capers (if using). Whisk the ingredient together and then add the onions and toss together.
Add the chicken, exposed flesh side down, and using your hands gently massage the chicken in the mixture and arrange the chicken in the dish leaving some of the mixture in the bottom of the dish and covering the chicken with the remaining mixture. Firmly press the chicken into the marinade and cover the dish with cling film. Place in the refrigerator to marinate for up to six hours or overnight. Turn the chicken skin side down after several hours and return it to the refrigerator for several hours more.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 425f/220c
Turn the chicken skin side up. Massage the chicken in the marinade and then arrange the other ingredients around and on top of the chicken. Place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
Baste the chicken with the pan juices. Add a little water if needed to ensure there is enough liquid in the bottom of the backing dish. Rotate the baking dish and roast another 30 minutes.
Once again baste the chicken with pan juices. If the surface of the chicken very brown loosely cover with foil and roast another 15 minutes.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Serving: Plate the chicken along with the other ingredients placed over and around the chicken. Spoon pan juices over all and serve.
Quick Black Beans: Serves 4 to 6
- 2 8 ½ oz/240g cans of black beans
- 2 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil (or olive oil)
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely diced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, coarsley ground
- 2 dried red chillies, whole
- 2 to 3 cups stock or water, hot
- sea salt to taste
Heat a large saucepan over medium low heat. When hot add the oil and then the onions. Cook the onions, stirring now and again, until they are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and the cumin seeds and cook 2 minutes while stirring.
Add the beans including their liquid and stir them into the onion mixture. Then slip in the whole chillies. When nearly boiling add 2 cups of nearly boiling hot stock or water and stir. Once boiling reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Taste the beans. You want them to be quite soft. If they are still a bit firm cook another 1o minutes.
Remove about ¾ of a cup of beans and place them in a bowl. Mash them until fairly smooth and then stir them back into the pot with the beans. At this point you may want to add a little more water if the beans in their broth seem very thick. Cook another 10 minutes while stirring. Add salt to taste and stir to combine. The beans should be very moist but not soupy.
Serve at once or set aside to cool to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator.
Flame Roasted Peppers, Jalapeno chilies:
- 2 red bell peppers
- 2 yellow bell peppers
- 6-8 green jalapenos
- 4 large garlic cloves, whole with skin on
- olive oil
- sea salt
For instructions for flame roasting (click here).
Once the peppers, jalapenos, and garlic are flame roasted and sweated, remove the skin and cut the peeled peppers and jalapenos in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and any pithy membranes and discard. Slice them into strips (rajas) and place them in a bowl.
Peel off the skin of the garlic cloves and thinly slice the cloves lengthwise and add them to the bowl of rajas. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt to taste. Toss until well combined, cover with cling film, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- 2 cups long grain rice, well rinsed
- water or stock
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads/ 1 teaspoon azafran (dried safflowers)/ or powdered turmeric
- sea salt.
Coloring the rice is optional, but it does add to the aesthetic appeal and well worth trying. True saffron adds a subtle color and flavor to the rice, while azafron (available in Mexican and some Asian markets) adds color only. Turmeric adds a yellow color with a pleasant subdued flavor and is readily available in supermarkets.
Put the rinsed rice in a large pot and cover with an equal part of water or stock. Stir in your seasoning of choice, as well as a pinch of sea salt. Place over medium heat and when boiling reduce the heat to a low simmer, partially cover with a lid, and cook about 15 minutes or until the liquid is nearly absorbed into the rice. Be sure to stir frequently so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
Promptly remove the pan from the heat and cover with a tight fitting lid. Set aside for about 20 minutes to steam.
Fluff the rice with a fork just before serving.
Now days Nochos are as much American as they are Mexican. The story of Nachos began in 1943 in the Mexican town of Pedros Negras across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. There is where Ignasio “Nacho” Anaya invented Nachos, nacho being the diminutive of Ignasio. By the 1950’s Ignacio’s creation spread across the US and Mex-Tex food became as American as apple pie.
And who doesn’t love nachos! Well, even today nachos can be a bit baffling for the uninitiated living beyond the Americas. Visually nachos do look like a “mash up” and then there is the challenge of how to eat them. With your hands… of course! With that all inhibitions are off the table and the fun begins. I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t love nachos.
Nachos have many incarnations and can veer well beyond the Ignacio’s original idea. Fast food joints are notorious for drowning the whole affair with a lava flow of processed cheese and mountains of faux sour cream.
My advice is to choose your ingredients with consideration so that that each ingredient’s flavor is complimentary, identifiable, and does justice to Ignasio’s original concept. Less is more makes all the difference here.
The recipe that follows does require the gathering together of several preparations made in advance, but there are some shortcuts. Mexican chorizo is readily available where there are Mexican communities and canned beans can be used in lieu of cooking them yourself. I highly recommend splurging on the corn tortilla chips and cheese. For this recipe I have used Garden of Eatin’ organic blue corn chips and Spanish Queso Manchego cheese. Queso Manchego is a semi hard sheep milk cheese from the arid plateau of La Mancha in central Spain with fruity, grassy, and tangy notes. It shaves beautifully and well worth a try.
Nachos can be served with drinks, as a snack, or even as a main course as I often do. I assure you nachos will become an all time favorite with friends and family and they will love you for all your efforts!
See sourcing tips in Chiang Mai below.
Blue Corn Nachos with Mexican Chorizo
- 1 teaspoon cold pressed peanut oil
- blue or yellow corn chips
- refried beans, warmed (see recipe here)
- Mexican chorizo warmed (see recipe here)
- Monchego cheese, thinly shaved (or other)
- sour cream or full fat Greek yogurt
- flame roasted tomato salsa (see recipe here)
Have ready a cast iron comal (grilling platter) or skillet.
preheat oven to 350f/180c
Lightly oil the cast iron platter or skillet. Arrange a layer of corn chips over the bottom of the platter and add a second layer of chips crisscrossing the first layer.
Spoon the refried beans here and there over the corn chips.
Generously spoon the chorizo over the chips and beans.
Distribute the shaved cheese over all.
Transfer the platter to the oven and heat for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is just melted.
Remove from the oven and add dollops of sour cream or Greek Yogurt over the nachos.
Serve with the flame roasted tomato salsa which pulls all the flavors together!
Sourcing tips for those of you who live in Chiang Mai
For those of you who don’t have a cast iron comal or skillet, Rimping at Promenada have stocked a rugged looking skillet that looks perfectly functional at just under 1000 Baht!
Top’s Market has a full selection of Garden of Eatin” organic corn chips and well worth the 115 Baht.
Rimping Markets carry El Charro Nacho Chips which are made with stone ground masa. They are the real thing and made in Thailand.
Canned beans are available at Top’s Markets and Rimping Markets. Rimping at Maya has recently added black beans to their selection!
For an an alternate cheese source check out Wine Connection’s retail cheeses and meats. They often have cheeses that are not available at other retailers and their prices are generally cheaper.
Paul’s Cold Pressed Peanut Oil is available at Rimping Markets. Wonderful peanut flavor and the perfect substitute for lard when cooking Mexican food
I’m always adjusting and tweaking salsa recipes to use for specific dishes. A slight twist to a tried and true salsa recipe can transform the taste with the slightest of hand. And to be honest it’s just an excuse to fool around in the kitchen and come up with what may be the next best salsa to add to your repertoire.
Flame roasting brings out flavors that no other cooking method can achieve and why grilling is so popular. Searing with intense heat releases otherwise lost flavors. In this case tomatoes and fresh chilies are charred on the outside with a sweetened flesh and an overall smokiness.
The results speak for themselves!
Rustic Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa makes about 3 cups
- about 1 ¾ ponds/800 grams firm vine ripe tomatoes
- 3-4 jalapeno chiles/ about 2 ounces/ 60 grams
- 1 onion, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch rings
- 5 whole garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- about 1 ¼ teaspoons sea salt + more to taste
- 2 teaspoons Jerez sherry wine vinegar
- 5 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves or 1 ½ tablespoons minced fresh marjoram leaves
Flame roast the tomatoes and jalapenos on your stove top or outdoor grill (see here) . Set aside in a bowl until cool enough to handle.
Then, working over a bowl peel off and discard about half of the charred skin from the tomatoes and the jalapenos, leaving the remaining charred skin in tact as this will add a smokiness to the salsa.
Slice the tomatoes on a cutting board into quarters and remove the white inner core and chop each quarter in half being mindful to scrape all the juices into the bowl as you work. Set the tomatoes aside to use later.
Likewise, using another bowl peel off and discard about half of the charred skin from the jalapenos, leaving the remaining charred skin in tact. Slice the jalapenos in half on a cutting board and remove the firm white vein and some of the seeds if you like and discard. Chop the jalapenos and set side to use later.
Preheat the oven to 400 f/200 c
Peel and slice the onion into rings about ¼ inch thick. Place the onion slices and peeled garlic on a small baking tray, drizzle with the olive oil, and toss. Place the tray in the oven and roast for about 15 minutes, turning the onions once while roasting. When the onions are nicely browned and charred along some edges and the garlic is colored and browned in spots, remove the tray from the oven and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile place the tomatoes in a food processor and pulse until the tomatoes are evenly chopped but not pureed. Transfer the tomatoes back into their bowl.
Then add the jalapenos, roasted onions, and garlic to the processor and pulse until well chopped and transfer them to the bowl of tomatoes and stir to combine.
Add the salt, vinegar, and cilantro (or marjoram) to the bowl and mix everything together until well combined. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.
Transfer the salsa to a non-reactive container, seal with a lid, and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Serve the salsa chilled or at room temperature.