Thursday, February 7, 2008

Recipe Box: Pico de Gallo, Guacamole, Chilaquiles

After my parents retired, they moved to Ajijic, a small town near Lake Chapala in the Jalisco state of Mexico. I visited them as often as I could afford it during the two years they lived there (they and my brother often helped me afford it!). Right now in the dregs of February, with the weather farking outside the window and threatening to dump another 6 inches of snow on top of the rising floodwaters, I wonder how irresponsible it would really be to use my credit card to hop a plane.

I remember the guys in pickup trucks full of ice that would drive around the neighborhood selling fish they caught that same morning. In Michigan you just don't get fresh shrimp. Ever. My parents grilled them outside with lime juice and a little garlic, then we had lunch in the garden with frosty margaritas and the smell of Jacaranda trees and old city carrying over the wall. The fruit was another marvel for a mid-westerner. I learned that oranges are supposed to be sweet, not sour and acidic. That's the difference of being allowed to ripen on the tree instead of in the truck. Orange mango juice from fresh picked fruit, pineapple that practically melts in your mouth, bananas with actual flavor...I think the lack of really fresh produce is the worst hardship of a Michigan winter. The stuff shipped up from other states tends to be green, sour, bland, or mealy. There's no dark fleshed plums that burst with juices when you bite into them. There's no green beans that steam up nice and crisp and taste like garden-grown bread. There's just the same tired staples under fluorescent lights, sprayed every ten minutes to look like they weren't shipped two thousand miles in the back of a diesel semi.

Every morning in Mexico you walked down to the Tortilleria and got a stack of handmade corn tortillas that served as a lesson in how to live without preservatives. The first day, stored in stone or clay baskets, they stayed soft enough to eat as tortillas. The next morning they were stiff and crumbly. You sliced them up to make chilaquiles in the morning (with scrambled eggs and leftover salsa), then quartered the rest to fry for corn chips. Then you took your basket and walked back down the cobblestone street to the Tortilleria, where the women wrapped your stack of warm tortillas in waxed paper to keep them fresh.

It was the same with salsa. You make fresh salsa at night to let the flavors really mix well. The next day you have delicious Pico de Gallo for almost any kind of dish or snack. The following morning you use it in chilaquiles, then add avocado to the rest for guacamole. Nobody does delicious leftovers like they do in Mexico.

So yeah, going to my warm happy place as I trudge through the snow, I decided to just go ahead and make a batch of fresh salsa for the Super-Tuesday C-span watching "party" on Tuesday. It tasted an awful lot like summer :-) Today it's just about ready to make into guac. If I can find any avacados.

Fresh Salsa (Pico de Gallo)

This is better if made at least an hour in advance, and best if made the night before and stored in the refrigerator. That gives the lime juice and salt time to draw the juices from the tomatoes and onions and really temper the flavors.

6-8 fresh roma tomatoes
2 medium red or yellow onions
3 limes
1 bunch fresh cilantro
2 jalapeno peppers (optional - more if desired)
1 tablespoon coarse (sea) salt

Cut tomatoes in half and scoop out (fingers or a spoon) the seed pulp (or as I call it: the nasty slimy bits)
Chop tomatoes into medium chunks (approx 1/4-1/2 inch)
Slice jalapenos lengthwise and carefully remove core and seeds. Rinse to remove all seeds.
chop jalapenos very finely
Peel onion and chop into medium chunks
remove cilantro stems and chop/shred leaves (approx 1 cup)
Juice the limes; you want about 3-4 tablespoons of juice

Mix all the ingredients well together.
Cover bowl tightly with wrap or lid and let sit in refrigerator at least an hour, preferably overnight.
Serve with a variety of corn chips.

This keeps for a couple days in the fridge, but not much longer. On the second morning, leftovers!


Use the leftover salsa from above, add equal amounts of avocado.
Slice the avocado lengthwise and scoop out the meat and pit.
Set the pit aside
Use a fork to mash the avocado and salsa together. I like to leave it a little chunky so you can really taste the avacado.

If you're not serving immediately, guacamole will oxidize very quickly. It doesn't make it "bad", but it turns black and looks pretty gross. To prevent this, put the avocado pits back into the bowl, pressing them down into the top of the guacamole. Cover with saran wrap directly onto the dip and pits, leaving as little air as possible between the wrap and the guacamole. Who knows why, but the pits help prevent the dip from oxidizing.


This was the best breakfast, even if it doesn't quite taste the same in winter :-) I've actually found that cooking it in well-seasoned cast-iron makes it taste more authentic:

For each serving:
2 Leftover soft corn (masa flour) tortillas
2 eggs, scrambled
2 Tablespoons salsa ranchero or 1/2 cup leftover Pico de Gallo
1 Tablespoon fresh cream (can substitute sour cream in the U.S.)
1 tablespoon fresh salsa (or to taste)
1 teaspoon olive oil
cut the tortillas into strips and cook in the oil on medium-high until crispy or browned
turn down heat
add eggs and salsa
cook over medium low heat until eggs are to your liking
serve with a dollop of fresh cream or sour cream and fresh salsa. This can be a main dish for breakfast or a "side dish" with eggs and toast

No comments: