Monday, November 15, 2010

Recipe Box: Leftover Corn Tortillas (Chilaquiles, Chips, Soup)

Yesterday's recipe post on Tacos leaves most people with a large stack of corn tortillas and only a few days to a week to use them up (more if they have artificial preservatives; check the package).  They're good for tacos for a few days (wrapped tightly in the fridge) but you have more options for the leftovers than just using them to hold various fillings.

Chilaquiles (reposted from ideas for leftover Pico de Gallo):

This was my absolute favorite breakfast when I visited my parents in Mexico, even if it doesn't quite taste the same in Michigan somehow :-) I've 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
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

Homemade Tortilla Chips:

Sometimes you get these in good Mexican restaurants (more often it's commercial corn chips dipped in the deep fryer to imitate homemade).  They're a really simple, efficient way to use up all your leftover tortillas at the end of the week. 

You need:
1 medium cast-iron or uncoated steel pan
1 cup vegetable shortening
6" tortillas (each tortilla will make 6 chips; your only limit is how long you want to spend on this).
Salt in shaker (sea salt or table salt)
paper towels.

Put the pan on medium-high heat with the shortening until it is all melted.  The oil should "fizz" a little when you put in the tortillas, but not smoke.  If the oil begins to smoke, turn it down a notch and continue to monitor.  If you're using a deep fryer or thermometer, you're looking for about 350-375 degrees F. 

Slice the tortillas into six pie-shaped wedges. 

Line a plate with 2 to 3 paper towels or napkins. 

Cook in a single layer in the pan until lightly browned and crispy (1-2 minutes). Remove to paper towels with a fork or metal spatula to drain and shake salt liberally over the layer. 

Start a new layer of chips.  When it is almost done, dump the first batch into a large bowl and add another paper towel to the layers on the plate. 

Repeat until you have enough chips. 

Note that you can flavor the chips at the salting stage, adding a sprinkle of lime juice, ranch dressing mix, etc.  Try making them dessert chips by using a mix of cinnamon and sugar instead of salt. 

Tortilla Soup

The Gumbo of the south, there are so many varied recipes for tortilla soup that you could almost toss some leftover tortillas into anything and apply the name.  Purists will argue for their particular variation as the most authentic, of course, even if the same claim is made for vastly different recipes.  I highly suggest you either experiment with the very basic recipe here, or Google "tortilla soup" and try some of the recipes you find. Most are based on fresh regional vegetables and use the leftover corn tortillas as a thickening agent much like flour. 

Very Basic Fresh Recipe:

6 six-inch leftover/stale corn flour tortillas chopped into small pieces (1/4 to 1/2 inch), plus 2-4 same for garnish cut into 1/2" strips.
6-8 cups chicken broth
10 oz chicken breast, cut into 1/2" cubes.
4  Roma tomatoes
3 whole green chili peppers (or jalapeno for a spicier soup, or green bell peppers for a very mild soup)
1/2 medium onion (approx 1 cup) diced
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
1/2 cup fresh cilantro

Sour Cream

You should be able to make this all with one pan and one soup pot.  The pan should be uncoated steel or cast iron, medium size frying pan.  You could even make it all in the soup pot if it's uncoated steel or cast iron, mixing all the ingredients at the end.  We'll assume a separate pot for the purpose of this recipe. 

Add the chicken broth and the 6 small-chopped tortillas to the pot on medium heat, stirring occasionally until at a simmer, then reduce to medium-low. 

Roast the tomatoes and peppers:  In the dry frying pan on medium heat, let the tomatoes and peppers toast, turning occasionally until each side is a little darkened.  Remove from the pan and let cool on the cutting board while you heat the olive oil in the pan.  Once they're cool enough to handle, chop the tomatoes into chunks and mince the peppers.  Add to the soup pot.

Once the olive oil is hot (a drop of water will pop and sputter) add the tortilla strips and fry 2 minutes or until crispy.  Set aside on paper towels to cool.  This will be garnish.

In the remaining oil, cook the onion, garlic and dried oregano until the onion is translucent.  Add onion and garlic to soup pot.

In the remaining oil, cook the cubes of chicken until browned.  Add to soup pot. 

Cook soup for 30 minutes.  (note, you can also assemble all of the above and use as a slow-cooker recipe, but the flavors will be less distinct when you finish). 

While the soup is cooking, chop the fresh cilantro, pit/peel/cube the avocado and slice the limes.  Use the cilantro, sour cream, fried tortilla strips, avocado and squeezes of lime as garnish to individual taste when you serve the soup at the table.

As I said, there are many, many variations on this soup!  You can easily go vegan by subbing vegetable broth and tofu for the chicken products (check the tortilla package for animal products).  You can add some crunch with fresh shredded cabbage added at the table, or up the iron with sauteed spinach added in the last ten minutes of cooking.  Many tortilla soups are tomato-based, which can be done by adding 8 oz of tomato paste and doubling the fresh tomatoes in the recipe.  Some also add fresh corn and black beans for a midwestern taste.

Finally, if you don't have access or money for fresh veggies, you can fake this recipe by mixing chicken soup with a jar of tomato and onion salsa, using sour cream and crumbled corn chips as garnish.  It isn't as good as the fresh, but when making do it might just make it :-)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Recipe Box: Real Tacos

Taco Bell came out with their Cantina Tacos, finally moving away from the Tex-Mex messes and into real central Mexico street food.   The problem is that the real corn flour tortillas go stale very quickly, so you actually get a crumbling mess full of cheap meat. When my parents lived in Ajijic, the emphasis was on really fresh veggies and homemade corn tortillas still warm from the little shop. 

For two people (6 small tacos) you'll need:

a package of at least 6 6-inch corn tortillas, usually found in the refrigerated section of the store. 
10-12 oz steak or chicken breast (one large or two small)
3 limes (one zested)
6 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
1tsp black pepper
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
1/2 cup oil (garlic flavored, oilive, vegetable, etc.) + 2 Tablespoons oil (for cooking meat)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Do Ahead:

Marinate the Meat:

Combine the juice and zest of one lime, 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup oil, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 3 cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1 tablespoon of the chopped cilantro and 1/4 cup of the chopped red onion in a ziplock bag with the chicken or beef.  Shake well so that the meat is well coated.  Place in fridge for at least an hour.  You can certainly leave this overnight or throughout the day if you need to. 

Marinate the Onions:

Combine the remaining chopped onions, 1/4 cup cilantro and the juice of one lime in a bowl or ziplock bag, mixing well.  Let sit in fridge for at least an hour or overnight.

Put It Together:

Chop meat into 1/2" cubes.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in medium frying pan over medium-high heat.  Combine meat, 2 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper, and 3 cloves of garlic in pan and stir frequently until meat is cooked through. 

In the meantime, heat a small non-stick frying pan (omelette pan, etc.) on medium heat.  Place tortilla in pan for 15 seconds, then flip and heat for another 15 seconds.  Remove to a plate and cover to retain heat (clean sacking towel, paper towel, pan lid, another plate, etc.) Repeat for all six tortillas.

Remaining tortillas should be immediately sealed in a plastic bag, removing as much air as possible.  They're only good for a couple of days after they're opened (if that).  Good uses for leftover tortillas include Chilequiles, homemade corn chips fried and coated with either salt or sugar/cinamon, tortilla soup, etc.

Slice the remaining lime into at least six slices. 

Mix the remaining fresh cilantro into the onion mixture and serve in a bowl. 

Assemble a taco by taking a tortilla, adding a spoonful of meat, a spoonful of the cilantro/onion mix, then squeezing a slice of lime over the combination.  The taste is simple, fresh and crunchy with a nice bite from the cilantro.  Once the marinating is done this can be turned out as a meal in less than half an hour, even if you're making margaritas to go with it. 

Any leftover onion/cilantro mix can be stirred into salsa to freshen up the flavor. 

A vegan version could be made by substituting more veggies for the meat (i.e. tomatoes, peppers, etc.) or slices of fresh avacado.  Check the Corn Tortillas to make sure they weren't made with animal fat.