Posts Tagged ‘tex-mex

17
Sep
10

tamales’ elopments with mid-American cuisine

After the Chicago World’s Fair introduced the rest of the country to Texas Mexican food in 1893, tamales ran off and eloped with multiple US regional cuisines. They turned up in the South, gravy-drenched and wearing nothing but cornmeal masa. They also gave birth to tamale pie, the hot-dish version of themselves that only the Midwest could have sired. In Texas, we continued to eat our nixtamal dumplings filled with puerco con chile. (No need to say chile colorado, since there was only one color of chile in Texas). It wasn’t until the 1990s that California came to us, bearing what it swore were authentic Mexican tamales, and therefore much better than ours. Despite their sneering tone, some of us wiped the orange grease from our fingers and had a taste, deciding that black bean tamales and chicken-and-green-chile tamales might be alright, too.

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16
Sep
10

Cooks Illustrated: American Classics

Or, the Cooks Illustrated Gets Fussy issue. Yes, I know–Cooks Illustrated is always a little fussy. It’s their thing, and I love them for it. But this is serious.

Page 49 is devoted to making the perfect pitcher of iced tea. Page 17 agonizes over the difficulties of the grilled cheese sandwich. I am pleased that quesadillas find a place as an American classic, on page 16. Appropriately, that faces the grilled cheese sandwiches; I made my share of both as a child, and since. Classic beef fajitas, a slightly more complicated preparation, gets two pages. But really, are these things that hard to make?

Maybe they are. The quesadillas article notes that “Some cookbooks suggest passing the tortillas over the flame of a gas burner to lightly char and soften them. This idea worked, but it … demanded close attention to keep the tortillas from going up in flames.” Of course it demands close attention! It takes about 10 seconds–I certainly hope your attention doesn’t wander in that amount of time. And, traditionally, you don’t “pass” them over the flame-you set each one on the burner, turning it with your fingers. Easy. You can turn the flame off while you flip, if you have soft skin–but that pushes the bounds of authenticity.

I also noted that while the quesadillas and beef fajitas write-ups both insist that good flour tortillas are key to the recipe, they say nothing about how to prepare your own.

24
Aug
10

mis primeros tamales de elote: a Tex-Mex/Sonoran/Guatemalan fusion

Today’s lunch is tamales de elote (sweet corn tamales), mostly following Bill and Cheryl Alters Jamison’s recipe in The Border Cookbook. They label the recipe Sonoran; I first had these in Guatemala, so they can’t be limited to Sonora, at least.

I followed the Jamisons’ recipe for the masa almost exactly, but I left out their filling of mild cheddar and strips of peppers. I had the idea of filling the tamales with a sauce made of our household’s favorite (and Guatemala-inspired) corn-on-the-cob fixins: mayonnaise, lime juice, and Texas-style chili powder. When Glenn was over last week for BLTs and corn on the cob, we set these things out on the table. He looked bemused and asked, “Where’s the butter?”

sauce ingredients

As I started to prepare things, I had second thoughts about the filling. Steamed mayonnaise… It could: A. Run; B. Curdle; C. Kill us. None of these possibilities were appealing, so I saved the sauce for a topping.

I also deviated from the Jamisons’ recipe in how big I made my tamales. They claim that their masa recipe yields enough for 10-12 large tamales. I don’t know where they’re getting their corn husks, or worse, how much masa they’re cramming into each one, but I opted for a couple dozen wee guys, instead. I’m getting the impression that it’s very Tex-Mex to make small-ish tamales.* Some in Guatemala were small, too, but many were overstuffed by my standards. I’ve had a few in California, and they’ve all been overstuffed. It makes the masa gummy and the whole package just kind of gross. So small it is in my kitchen.

ready to steam

Also, I don’t know who the Jamisons’ hypothetical eaters are, but neither J-P nor I could get through more than three little guys in one sitting. With those size and serving caveats in mind, here’s the Jamisons’ masa recipe and my sauce recipe.

Masa for tamales de elote

  • 4 cups fresh corn kernels (from 4-5 ears; reserve the husks by cutting off the stem and peeling carefully, then keeping moist in a damp kitchen towel)
  • 1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup masa harina
  • 1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1 tsp sugar, if the corn isn’t very sweet (optional)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pinch cayenne
  • 1-3 Tbsp milk, if needed

Puree two cups of corn kernels with the butter. (I added the cream, which I used instead of milk, at this point, because our tiny food processor couldn’t handle the corn and butter alone.) You might be tempted to stop here (this stuff is good).

manna

Add the other ingredients and mix well. Then smear the masa into your reserved corn husks, wrap up the husks, and steam the tamales for 40-50 minutes. They’re done when they don’t stick to the husk anymore.

sauced

Next time, I would leave out the cornmeal (it gave too much of an uncooked taste and crumbly texture) and up the overall proportion of fresh corn, trying to approach the soft, sweet ideal I have from Guatemala. The sauce stays, though.

Sauce for tamales de elote

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 tsp Texas red chili powder

Combine and mix well.

sauce
Even the bowl it’s in is part of a Guatemalan-made set. More pics of the process here.


* My mother remembers my great aunt Antonia chiding my great-grandmother for putting so much meat in the tamales they were going to sell to gringos. As soon as Antonia looked away, my great-grandmother was back at it–she just couldn’t give up the norm that plenty = quality for the norm that stinginess = profit. Even so, these weren’t as big as the huge California-style tamales that turn me off.

23
Jun
10

mother of salsa

John Kraemer tells me that he has created a new elemental condiment–on the level of mustard or curry paste–that he’s calling “mother of salsa.” His instructions:

“Juice some limes, and add enough salt that the solution tastes about equally salty and sour (whatever that means). Mince together a few ripe hot peppers (thai, habanero, scotch bonnet), some chives and/or chive flowers, and lots of cilantro — enough that when they’re added to the lime the mixture behaves kind of like a viscous liquid, with no layer of clear juice floating on top. Then give it a bit to let the flavors come together. … adding it to chopped/diced/minced tomatoes it produces a plausible salsa cruda (likewise avocado/guacamole), but it also serves as a good finishing touch for many tex mex or thai dishes, and makes a good table condiment.”

The only problem is that the citric acid from the lime juice is not doing the trick of keeping the colors bright for longer than a few hours in the fridge, he says. I suggested storing at room temperature, but he that’s worse, if anything. I suggested tearing, rather than cutting, the herbs, and seeing how long it keeps without refrigeration. He said he’s mincing them pretty fine, so that would be tedious. I asked if a plastic lettuce knife would be any better. I also sent him to look in the Cooks Illustrated archives for relatively benign color-maintaining additives: anyone else have any bright (heh, heh) ideas?

Off to London…

20
Jun
10

pickled jalapeños

I’ve realized that I seek out pickled jalapeños for their taste. I mean, it’s nice that they have some heat, but it’s that combined with their basically sweet-and-sour character that really hits the spot. My work lunch is often a rice-refried beans-cheese-and-hot salsa burrito from El Toro, and it’s great, but it takes pickled jalapeños from the salsa bar to make it satisfying. At home, we recently finished the first jar that we bought in California, an unfamiliar brand called La Preferida. Too sweet, not sour enough, which may explain why it took so long to get through them. I replaced it with a can of La Costeña, and magic. Yes, taste and nostalgia are closely intertwined.

15
Jun
10

link round-up

I just spent six days on at the bike shop, which is why new posts have been spotty. Rest assured we’ve been eating well Chez Cervantes-Ferguson: my lunch leftovers today included lamb steak, zucchini casserole, and homemade basil pesto.

Summer is in full effect at the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market, and San Francisco even had two genuinely warm days last weekend. So I’m primed for:

Light, summery recipes
Mexconnect’s Sopa Fría de Sandía y Jitomate re-works one of our favorite Mark Bittman salads as a soup. In a related article (with more recipes), Karen Hursch Graber shares Alice B. Toklas’ remark, apropos of gazpachos, that “recipes, through conquests and occupations, have traveled far.” And the Jul/Aug issue of Cook’s Illustrated has a recipe for pureed tomato gazpacho, along with a description of pre-tomato versions: “yesterday’s bread, almonds, garlic, olive oil, and water … mashed … together into a humble potage.”

Meanwhile, Joumana at Taste of Beirut offers an appealing spiced cheese salad, and Mark Bittman a quick pasta preparation with shallots, peas, lettuce, and proscuitto. Bittman has also been experimenting with using tomatoes to deglaze his pans.

Old News
Besides continuing to love Mark Bittman and Taste of Beirut, I am also charmed all over again by Robb Walsh, and his latest analogy: authentic Mexican restaurants are to Tex-Mex as Ballet Folklorico is to Freddy Fender. Or, if Freddy is too old-fashioned for you (say it ain’t so–he was my favorite rodeo performer when I was a kid!), Walsh recommends Chingo Bling.

Environmental News
But summer isn’t all good food and fun commentary. The BP oil slick has forced the 134-year-old, family-owned P&J oyster shuckery to close, lending credence (as though it were needed) to this Facing South article on Louisianans’ fears of cultural loss to environmental damage.

In better news, the EPA has moved to ban the insecticide endosulfan, which is known to cause neurological and reproductive damage in humans (especially farmworkers) and animals. Counties in California’s Central Valley are also mandating pesticide buffer zones around schools.

Miscellany
In a recent podcast, James Howard Kunstler discusses urban food production past, present, and future, and the need to preserve rural lands regardless of what we can produce in our cities.

Jan Chipchase reports on the cultural significances of breath mints.

This one is more for me than anything, since J-P and I will be leaving for London (then Helsinki, then the Isle of Wight) a week from tomorrow: James Ramsden’s highlights from this week’s Taste of London. I love the preponderence of Malaysian restaurants on his list: is it Britain’s new Indian?

29
May
10

very different worlds

Over dinner last night, J-P and I talked briefly about reasons for the popularity of Tex-Mex-bashing. He speculated that most bashers don’t know that Mexican people in Texas also eat Tex-Mex: we eat at Tex-Mex restaurants, some of us run them, and what we cook at home is not entirely unrelated to what is served there. I said I thought most bashers who are looking for authenticity do know that, but would argue that Texas Mexicans (especially we latter generation ones) are not real Mexicans and therefore can’t produce real Mexican food. Mexican Tex-Mex-bashers even have a word for it: pocho.

He said in that case, it would be a very different world from the one he was describing. What do you think?